Thursday, 10 July 2014

Review: On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

Although the novel is set in my favourite era (c. 17th century) I got my hands on this book mainly because of the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie that was "suggested" by this book. Admittedly, I was intrigued when I learned that "On Stranger Tides" also likely inspired the "The Secret of Monkey Island" and other Monkey Island adventure games in the 1990's, which, in turn, inspired the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Quite a circuitous path of inspiration and influence, if you ask me, but the important thing is that they are all stories about pirates mixed with a bit of magic and voodoo.

However, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and Monkey Island games all have a third ingredient: humour: And humour is very much lacking in "On Stranger Tides". Even with its main hindrance (to which I'll get to in a moment), the story might have been at least entertaining if there had been even a tiny bit of humour in it.

The protagonist of the story is Jack Shandy who travels to the new world to confront his uncle. Aboard the ship over the Atlantic, he gets to know a woman named Beth Hurwood and her father. The ship is attacked by pirates and Jack Shandy ends up joining the pirate crew. The plot thickens as the motivations of the pirate Blackbeard and Beth's father begin to unravel and the characters are slowly led towards the legendary Fountain of Youth.

The main problem of the story is the lack of interesting characters. Jack Shandy is simply a very uninteresting hero: there's no character arch to speak of, there are no real hardships to survive... Everything is just too easy for him as he learns to master seamanship, swordsmanship, swashbuckling, leadership, cookery and even voodoo within the span of six months. And he learns most of these skills off-screen, meaning that they get a mention at around the time Shandy happens to need each of those skills. The other characters aren't much better - being mainly motivated by simple goals and having little or no depth to them.

Overall, this was not a very impressive book and will entertain only those who are after simplistic action and adventure.