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Charles Stross – The Labyrinth IndexIt's getting quite challenging, bordering on the slightly tedious, to come up with new variants on the biography for writers whose output (and presence on this site via reviews) has reached double figures, as is the case here. And all the fans who read the series (this is book 9, should you choose to read from the beginning. Not that you have to do so...) really don't need to be told, again.
So, this is for those new to the matter, who are reading a review of a book deep into the series – Charles Stross is a Scotland-based writer of SF and Fantasy (classifications can be a bit tricky with his output at times) who has been nominated for about every award going in SF and Fantasy, has won several of them (including Hugos, Locus, and Prometheus), and whose books have been translated into a number of other languages.
The Labyrinth Index is, as said above, the 9th novel in his highly entertaining Laundry Files series – written in a number of different styles and approaches, and plotting an overall story arc by following various protagonists for the duration of a novel.
The basic promise of the series is, as the author neatly lays out on his own site:
"Good news: magic is real.
Bad news: it's a branch of mathematics—prove the right theorems, and entities in other dimensions may hear and, sometimes, do what you tell them to do.
Worse news: this means that magic is best practiced by computer geeks—"applied computational demonologist" is a job description.
Worst news: the extradimensional entities are the horrors that haunted the dreams of H. P. Lovecraft, and the Stars are Coming Right …But don't worry. Her Majesty's Government has a secret agency tasked with defending the realm from the scum of the multiverse. It's nick-named the Laundry by those hapless civil servants and computer geeks who work there [...]”



Besides the ever-growing number of novels in the series which plot the main course towards the end of the world there are also a number of short stories and novellas available, pencilling in other details and side-threads. The series does not need to be read from the beginning – given its length Charlie has provided jumping-on points for readers joining in at a later date. The Labyrinth Index, though, is not one of them.

The story is a direct continuation shortly after the point where The Delirium Brief left off – as a direct consequence of the events in the previous book the UK has a new Prime Minister in Fabian Everyman, also known as the (People's) Mandate. In reality he is a mouthpiece, an avatar, for N'yar lat-Hotep, aka the Black Pharaoh. He was installed in that role by the Laundry, to avoid an (even) bigger evil. And if that's not a turn up for the books then I don't know what is...
“the PM is slippery, even by the standards of other immortal nightmares”
The new government is very much in favour of an exit from the EU, and isolationism. Firstly it will stop the right/wrong people leaving, but more to the point there are ulterior motives, not the least the fact that the Mandate is preparing for war, as he is not the only Elder God awakening.

In the US, meanwhile, have different changes of a similar magnitute taken place – the Black Chamber (affectionately known by Laundry personnel as The Nazgûl) have been taken over by the Sleeper, and have worked a geas to make the populace of the US forget the President and entire Executive Branch exists at all. This in turn leaves a god-sized hole in the national psyche, into which they aim to install the re-awaked Great Cthulhu. Cthulhu is not fully awake yet, and they are working towards a computational solution to the problem of waking and raising him – we are talking a Matryoshka brain and dismantling the inner planets for material...

And so the Mandate sets up an Expeditionary force, under Mhari Murphy (now Baroness Karnstein, for political reasons) to disrupt this plot, put some sand in the gears of the Black Chamber's plans, and generally yank their chain a bit.
There is not terribly much set-up – it's action stations from the go. Preliminaries, inasmuch as required, and other info dumps are told as flash-backs and other inserts to break up the progress towards the showdown.
The pacing and timing of action/progress/information works rather well for me, so no complaint re. this approach!

The book is nominally written as recollections (for posthumous usage) by Mhari, but we see also  events happening outside her sphere of control or knowledge. This is not new and was present in earlier books with other protagonists, too, but is quite substantial here. At some point she actually comments on this, and hand-waves her way through the why and how...

Given the gears-within-gears and Secret Agents/Tradecraft setup there is, as befits such a setting, some heavy double crossing and layers of need-to-know and ulterior motives and aims taking place.

I'm not really sure how much of this is really on the main series story arc towards (presumably) the End of the World, and how much is a – frothy and entertaining is sometimes rather bloody (he is still rather rough on his protagonists; we are losing several. Nope, no spoilers!) detour into Secret Agent/Tradecraft Thriller territory.

I felt that there was the odd hand-wave or cheap cop-out to keep the story moving and hanging together; albeit none were jarring enough to spoil my enjoyment.

Overall one of the best-paced and enjoyable instalments in the series in a while, I hope this continues, in which case I'm not in a hurry to see the end of the world!



More Charles Stross

Title: The Labyrinth Index
Author: Charles Stross
Series: Laundry Files
Series Number: 9
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Tor
Publisher URL: http://www.tor-forge.com
Publication Date: October 2018
Review Date: 181019
Pages: 317
Format: ePub
Topic: Horror
Topic: Thriller

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

 

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