The Labyrinth Index

As with every year that a book in the series is published, in 2018 we got a signed copy of The Labyrinth Index to celebrate our anniversary. This is possibly a bit inappropriate for a celebration of marriage, as the whole series is about eldritch monstrosities coming to eat everyone’s brains. Or very appropriate, depending on your views on marriage.

I’ve mostly been reading books on the Kindle of late, if at all, because as I get older and my eyes are more tired, it’s easier to do so, but I also felt residual guilt at not reading a book from a series I have enjoyed so much, so on the five hour flight from Singapore to Perth today I devoured The Labyrinth Index. 

The first books, pastiches of classic spy thrillers, leavened with jokes about PowerPoint, were a lot of fun, but gradually the tone has darkened. The superhero one from a few years ago was particularly bleak, really a piece of literature about the collapse of a marriage that happened to include Lovecraftian horrors. So it was nice that this one was a return to the inspired silliness of the early stories, even if things are still very dark. 

There’s:

  • a spell that makes Americans forget they ever had a president, if they fall asleep
  • Nigel Farage seems to be Prime Minister except he’s a supernatural intelligence called Nyarlathotep who’s going to eat us all
  • elves on the autism spectrum
  • killer smartphones
  • and a return of RAF Squadron 666, flying weaponised Concordes

The plot is good for roughly 6/7ths of the book, then runs out of steam a bit at the end. Stross, I felt, used to be good at the high concept of a fight scene but didn’t execute well (eg the end of The Fuller Memorandum) and that’s a flaw that’s long since been solved, but The Labyrinth Index feels slightly longer than necessary – maybe there’s too many plot strands to tie up in the closing pages. There’s also a sexually-predatory Starbucks batista episode that lasts less than a page, and feels like a clunker of a false note – I really felt it either needed editing out, or it was meant to show us how unreliable our narrator is. Sometimes ambiguity is just confusing. 

At about the halfway point, nobody had died, and I assumed somebody would have to, otherwise there would be no sense of danger – we’ll, by the end that isn’t true. I wonder if this is more clearing of the decks of secondary characters to prepare for the end game. 

There’s also very little of Bob Howard, the original mainstay of the series, now left behind because he’s too powerful a character to fit into a normal plot. But I didn’t miss him as much as I thought I would. 

All in, it’s a very good book – one of the high points of recent Laundry novels, also veering away from the techno geek in-jokes of some of the earlier books in the series. Nice to have a break from Space Marines for a few days too. 

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