Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the Earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding.
A 2001 spy novel by Tim Powers, Declare follows British agent Andrew Hale through a covert Cold War operation with roots in the intricacies of The Great Game and a distinct supernatural bent. It is written as a Secret History, postulating that there are supernatural events occurring behind the scenes of otherwise-mundane occurrences. At its center: he British spy and defector, Kim Philby, and his links with the djinn...Powers has acknowledged that much of the novel was influenced by the works of John Le Carre, while the supernatural occurrances have a distinct Lovecraftian flavour to them. See also Charles Stross's Laundry novels; in the afterword of the first novel Stross admits the similarities—the Stale Beer-flavoured spy fiction, and the secret knowledge of the supernatural—but notes that they are coincidental.
Arc Words: "O fish, are you constant to the old covenant?" "Return, and we return. Keep faith, and so will we."
"Declare" itself arguably qualifies—see Title Drop.
As Long as It Sounds Foreign: "Machikha Nash" is said to mean "Our Mother of Misfortune" in Russian. In reality, it means "our stepmother", and is not correct: "machikha nasha" would be grammatically correct, and even then, it would sound rather awkward to a native Russian speaker, because appending a possessive pronoun after the noun is an antiquated and hardly ever used form.
Batman Gambit: Operation Declare which eventually succeeds in bringing down the Soviet Union by removing its supernatural protector.
Christianity is Catholic: The Church of England is also present, but Catholicism is heavily implied to be the "right" version. Then again, there are plenty of Muslim themes throughout the work, and Powers deliberately leaves it all very ambiguous.
It's more that the main character is Catholic and we see things through his eyes. If you read carefully, it's implied that while he rejects it, his superiors believe that the being he kills on Ararat is the one who originated the stories of the Christian god, hence the name of the operation — a response to "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have understanding."
A Crack In The Ice: Andrew Hale falls into one while climbing Mount Ararat, but is saved because he's roped to the spetsnaz team climbing with him. He nearly lets himself fall though because there's an Eldritch Abomination staring back at him from the abyss, compelling him to release his carabiner...
Deadly Euphemism: "establish the truth" and related phrases, taken from Victorian poet J. K. Stephen's To R.B.
Only this: or at least, if more,
You must know, not think it, and learn, not speak:
There is truth to be found on the unknown shore,
And many will find where few will seek.
Depleted Phlebotinum Shells: For a djinn, shapes can be thoughts and thoughts can be actions—and an ellipsoid marked with perpendicular grooves means death. Hale is issued a shotgun derringer with the pellets engraved in this manner to fire into the djinn.
Disappeared Dad: Hale doesn't know who his father is, and it becomes a major plot point.
Droit du Seigneur: Cited by Philby when gambling for Elena, implying that he'll take her for his wife whether she wants it or not.
Evil Twin: In personality, not looks. Philby is a family man, but lacks any loyalty to friends or country. Hale is bereft of family and is a loner, but is staunchly loyal to his country and the few friends he has.
Fiery Redhead: Elena. While not that aggressive in personal relationships, she is extremely passionate about what she does, be it furthering the cause of Communism, or destroying Soviet Union for good. Late in the novel, however, she tries murdering a man who wronged her instead of recruiting him, as were her orders.
Foil: Kim Philby is this to Andrew Hale. There's a reason for it: they are two halves of a Literal Split Personality. Philby got the "home and hearth" aspects of it; Hale got the loyalty and dedication.
Fright Deathtrap: Hale bribes a British expatriate living in Moscow to tell him where to find Philby. After doing so the Machikha Nash appears and the man keels over dead of a heart attack.
Fun with Acronyms: Elena's codename in the Red Orchestra is "Et Cetera" ("etc.") because her full real birth name is Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga (initials: ETC).
Grey and Black Morality: the Rabkrin are a horrifying lot, though this is because they must appease Machikha Nash to safeguard their homeland. The SOE is generally better, though it too has shown no remorse in killing off its own agents—most notably Cassagnac—in order to uphold and pursue Operation Declare.
That said, individual members of both organizations are sympathetic enough. James Theodora is a decent enough fellow who seems almost relieved that he wouldn't be able to kill Andrew Hale, while Elena's Rabkrin handler visibly shows remorse for his organization's actions, and implies that most members of the Rabkrin feel the same way.
Human Sacrifice: The Ukrainian famine and the Stalin purges were encouraged by Rabkrin to appease Machika Nash.
I'm a Humanitarian: Many if not all of the djinn, not to mention their human servants, readily eat humans. Indeed, the Ukrainian Terror Famine was done at least in part to show Machika Nash, the leader of the Russian djinn/ghuls, that Stalin was willing to feed her.
Averted by the Kurdish tribesmen that Hale meets before his first attempt on Mount Ararat; though many of them are effectively immortal due to eating the amomon root, they are generally a nice enough bunch.
Invisibility Cloak: Walking in the clochard nothing-right-here rhythm masks you from human surveillance.
Involuntary Suicide Mechanism/Trigger Phrase: Elana's handler uses one to try and kill her when she announces she's defecting to the French. Fortunately she was praying when the hypnotic "kill command" was implanted, and this somehow disrupted it.
Killed to Uphold the Masquerade: Operation Declare was noted to have taken the lives of T. E. Lawrence, Lord Kitchener and Alan Turing. By successfully concluding Operation Declare and then by threatening to make it public if he were killed, Andrew Hale manages to escape this fate.
Literal Split Personality: Both Philby and Burgess could do that, as a result of their link with the djinn. Both of them lost the ability for different reasons.
Lost Him in a Card Game: Hale and Philby gamble for Elena versus a scroll detailing the secret of eternal life. The game is interrupted, but Philby insists on completing the game when they meet up again in Moscow. Hale choses Elena over immortality, even though he's not sure she'll have him.
Mood Whiplash: While he's being briefed in the Lebanese prison, a man who looks a lot like Hale is questioned by the cops. Their wounds have to match, starting with a black eye. Then a bloody eye. Then coffee spilled on his shirt. Applying the injuries to Hale, hilariously, breaks up the flow of the very tense briefing.
Moscow Centre: And its rivals, the GRU. As it turns out, the Rabkrin dates back even further than this.
One True Love: Elena for Hale, despite them only spending a few months together in occupied France, then a single night in post-war Berlin. This is strongly implied to have its justification in Hale's overdeveloped sense of honor and duty as a result of getting it all from his "twin" Kin Philby. While Elena occasionally cheats on him (like with Kim), he never even considers a relationship with another woman for over twenty years after committing himself to her.
Our Genies Are Different: taken mainly from Arabic and Muslim folklore, they think and exist more as motions than anything else, so their conceptions of time and identity are vastly different from humans. Most have no permanent bodies, and often appear in the form of storms or whirlwinds. Communication with them is difficult, but certain rhythms and shapes (such as ankhs) can be used to attract them, or to evade their notice.
Perception Filter: If you walk in a certain rhythm, humans are unable to observe you. It is implied that everyone can learn it (like the Parisian vagabonds, the clochard), but some (like Andrew and Elena) have a natural gift for it.
Police Brutality: Played for Black Comedy when Hale is hauled into a Lebanese police station on trumped-up charges so his handler can brief him. Meanwhile a man fitting Hale's description in undergoing a mock interrogation so the Soviets won't be suspicious, so the policeman keeps interrupting the briefing to inflict the same injuries on Hale.
Handler: We better wrap things up before they break the poor man's legs.
Posthumous Character: Claude Cassagnac is reported to be dead in the first chapter, though we do see him in the chapters set in the 1940s.
Reference Overdosed: Hints about the nature of the djinn are often drawn from a variety of archaeological and mythological sources.
The Scapegoat: Kim Philby plans on using the ghost of his father, residing in a pet fox (long story) as one, to avoid the negative mental consequences of dealing directly with the djinn. The Russians plan otherwise.
Science Marches On: alas for the desert sequences, as it was discovered in 2004 that the Wabar meteor impacts were a lot more recent than previously thought: instead of taking place in biblical times, current thinking is that the Wabar meteor hit in the 19th century.
Star-Crossed Lovers: Andrew and Elena, having loved each other for over twenty years except meeting just three or four times. Ultimately, however, they get together.
Split at Birth/Separated at Birth: A strange variation. Philby and Hale are not twins, but (unbeknownst to them) half-brothers born exactly 10 years apart; but since they were born on the same date, the djinn perceive them as two halves of one person.
Stock Quotes: The djinn at Ash Shaq says "My name is legion. Worship us."
Thunderbolt Iron: In 1945 in Berlin the French Secret Service try to kill the Mother of Misfortunes with an iron bullet forged from a meteorite believed to have killed a djinn. Hale plans to blow up a meteor to achieve a similar effect on Mount Ararat. It turns out to be almost, but not quite, what is required.
Trust Password: Upon their first meeting in Paris, Elena and Andrew agree on the phrase "Bless me" (in any language) to mean "Things are not what they seem; trust me", and consistently use it throughout the entire novel.
White-Haired Pretty Girl: Elena goes from redhead to this between her first and second meetings with Hale. This is a permanent result of her horrific conditioning in the Lubyanka basements.