Tim Powers,
On Stranger Tides
(Ace, 1987; Subterranean Press, 2008; Harper, 2011)

This weekend, the long-awaited Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opens in theaters nationwide. But long before Captain Jack Sparrow first set foot on the deck of the Black Pearl, On Stranger Tides was the title of a novel by Tim Powers.

Coincidence? Absolutely not. Disney optioned the book in 2009. The new film incorporates aspects and elements of the novel, which in its turn lends itself splendidly to the movie, as it is packed with pirates and zombies and supernatural plot twists (oh my!). To what extent the two align is yet to be seen, all of which may be moot for some since the Rapture is scheduled for May 21.

For those left behind, On Stranger Tides is about John Chardagnac, a puppeteer traveling to Jamaica after the death of his father. He is on his way to confront the uncle who stole his inheritance. Also aboard ship is the lovely Beth Hurwood and her father, an Oxford professor who is a few citations short of a bibliography.

The ship is attacked by pirates, a common hazard at the time, and Phillip Davies captains the pirate ship. John fights valiantly, partly thanks to his skills as a puppeteer, and when the pirates are victorious, John is given a choice between death and joining the crew. Possessed of a strong sense of self-preservation, John signs the charter and becomes a pirate. He is renamed Jack Shandy. Beth and her father are also taken aboard the pirate ship.

Eventually, John discovers that the attack was not by circumstance but rather that Professor Hurwood chartered it in order to continue in a search for the legendary Fountain of Youth. Once there, he hopes to raise the spirit of dead wife and have it inhabit Beth's body, a plan he has not discussed with the current resident of said body. John, now Jack, is appalled (becoming a pirate does not mean surrendering every scruple)and resolves to rescue Beth. His self-assigned task is anything but easy.

Powers is known for his ability to juggle complex storylines populated with interesting believable characteristics, and he does not let down the reader here. He blends history and mythology together into a ripping yarn on a literary level, bringing together such disparate elements as Blackbeard, zombies and puppets. Will Captain Jack Sparrow be able to live up to the expectations set by Powers' novel? Time will tell.

book review by
Donna Scanlon

21 May 2011

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