Monday, August 04, 2008

Book Review: The Stress of Her Regard by Tim Powers

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

One of my friends is a big Tim Powers fan but despite that, I've never really tackled Powers's novels despite his recommendations (although I have read some of his short stories). When I began reading The Stress of Her Regard, I found the pace slow and it didn't immediately catch my attention. However, by the time I finished reading it, all I can say is wow: I can't imagine the narrative starting any differently. This is one of those stories where anything less than a novel does it no justice and The Stress of Her Regard makes great use of its particular length and format. Powers tells a secret history/conspiracy narrative involving poets and various myths. Several characters rise to the forefront like Shelley and Byron whose historical life is scrutinized under a darker, more fantastical framework. Our main protagonist, Michael Crawford, is that right mix of frailty and bravery, one of the fallen yet still likable. After the initial build-up, the narrative transforms into a compelling read and Powers sprinkles the beginning of each chapter with various quotes and poems that take on a different meaning given the story's premise. The highlight of the book for me is the ending and all I can say without spoiling anything is that the payoff is well worth it and every detail in the book is deliberate on the part of the author. While not necessarily a weakness, again, the pacing of The Stress of Her Regard is slow at the start and it won't immediately transfix readers the same way a Jim Butcher novel might. Also, just a pet peeve of mine, I feel Powers uses the word "jackknife" too often but that's just a minor quibble. Overall this was a terrific read that combines complexity and character with the fantastical and the horrific.

Rating: 3.5/5.

Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

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