I picked up Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides because someone said it was one of the few novels that had gotten the whole pirrrrate thing right. It even inspired the Monkey Island games and the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Pirates are inherently ridiculous, especially when they’re dressed like they’ve been “ransacking a theater’s costume closet”, and are led by a voodoo pirate captain who, in the first chapters, abducts a fair maiden and a swashbuckling hero. But I’m all for pretending to be twelve years old if it will help me enjoy a story. So I gave it a try.
It didn’t work. But that actually had nothing to do with the pirate theme. I liked the pirate theme. It’s the author I don’t like. His characters have as much soul as a voodoo pirate captain.
I tried to read another Tim Powers novel once, The Anubis Gates, and it had the same problem. Plenty of fun concepts, including, if I remember correctly, some sort of evil clown running the underworld of 19th century London. Fun fun fun. But no magic. I mean: No story magic. The magic that makes you want to know what the characters will do next, because they have their hooks in your psyche and refuse to let go.
So, no more Tim Powers for me. Ever. But thar be plenty of voodoo pirate captains ahead for me anyway: Monkey Island 2 has just been rereleased with new graphics. It’s out on PC and iPhone etc. Go play it.