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The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

Published by Tor.com on October 30, 2018

I’m not really into stories about vampires and demons, but Charles Stross is such a good writer that I make an exception for his Laundry Files novels. And while I generally prefer science fiction to fantasy, I have to admit I couldn’t wrap my head around Stross’ Accelerando or Glasshouse, two novels that are acclaimed for their ideas, which are plentiful, although plot and characterization are largely sacrificed for the sake of stuffing the books full of Stross’ notions of what the future might hold. The universe in which the Laundry Files series is set is rich and layered, but Stross also devotes some effort to creating action-adventure plots that are always entertaining.

The novels imagine a British spy agency (the Laundry) that protects the nation from occult threats. Magic is both a weapon and a defense, although the magic is equation-based. The American counterpart (the OPA), sometimes known as the Black Chamber, is not well liked by Laundry operatives (American Postal Inspectors of the occult are more welcome). Early books focused on a character named Bob Howard, but more recent books tend to have ensemble casts. The occult threats grow in number and power with each new novel. The protagonists tend to be vampires who are (sort of) under the British government’s control. At this point, however, the British government is under the control of a dark and sinister power. The Prime Minister has been replaced by an incarnation of the Black Pharaoh, as The Delirium Brief explains in detail. Even darker powers are on the horizon.

The vampire protagonist in The Labyrinth Index is Mhari Murphy. Murphy is working as an executioner for the British government, among her other duties as a highly placed official in New Management. Executions are a necessity because vampires need a blood supply. For dire reasons that earlier novels explain, the Laundry has been officially disbanded but Murphy performs chores as assigned by the new PM.

The PM is convinced (and he might be right) that nonhuman entities are taking over America’s Executive Branch. He assigns Murphy to build a team that will infiltrate the USA and gather intelligence, since the president is no longer answering the phone. He also tasks her with rescuing (e.g., kidnapping) the president, if he is still sufficiently human to be worth the bother. Finding him is complicated by the fact that Americans have blissfully forgotten that they even have a president, creating a void that the forces of evil plan to fill by waking a sleeping god, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. Murphy does her best with the assistance of other characters, although the PM may have had an ulterior motive for sending her on her mission.

Stross’ smart, tongue-in-cheek prose and the vivid universe he has created are the primary reasons to read these novels. It’s impossible to take this kind of story seriously and Stross wisely relies on humor and action to keep the reader entertained. Murphy telling a demon’s assistant that she demands diplomatic immunity is priceless. Despite all the mayhem, vampire bites, and general nastiness, the ending delivers a sweet little love story. There’s something for everyone in The Labyrinth Index. If you like the series, you’ll probably like this entry.


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