The Labyrinth Index – Charles Stross

labyrinth index cover

“As I cross the courtyard to the execution shed I pass a tangle of bloody feathers.”

Reading the latest few Laundry Files books in quick succession has worked really well, as they form an ongoing story leading us to the state we find ourselves at the start of The Labyrinth Index – look away now if you’re not up to date, and mention of events in book 9 are going to spoil any of 1-8 for you!

Still here? Grand 🙂 So, having signed a deal with the lesser of two dark horrors, Britain is now under New Management. And His Highness has decided priority one is to deal with the puzzling amnesia that seems to be affecting the US when it comes to their… urm.. presid… wait, what was I saying?!

After most of the early books were told from the point of view of Bob Howard, I admit I didn’t take too well to the change. The author’s first attempt at writing from a female view, Mo’s, felt a bit off to me. Switching to Alex in the previous book, The Delirium Brief, worked better, but I was concerned that going back to female with Mhairi might throw up similar issues. Thankfully not: Mhairi is spiky and no-nonsense, and even the ‘inner thoughts’ portion of her journal (for, all the Laundry Files books are technically journals…!) isn’t too whiny.

Story-wise, the shift to the US for this mission gives the book a little more self-contained feel, despite the ongoing story. It’s still not a good place to start – go back and get all the interesting back stories! A lot of the cast is used in brief, support-only roles, so it’s nice to know who they are rather than just a collection of random faces.

Overall, this is Laundry on fair form. Looking forward to the next book, and finding out how all of these end-of-times events play out!

Hardback: 354 pages / 11 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Laundry Files book 9
Read from 7th-27th January 2019

My rating: 8/10

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The Delirium Brief – Charles Stross

delirium brief cover

“It’s twenty past ten at night and I’m being escorted through the glass-fronted atrium of a certain office building in central London.”

Following straight on from events in The Nightmare Stacks, I’m delighted to say we have Bob Howard back as main narrator! Welcome back, Bob 🙂

It really makes a difference – I’ve been a little meh over the last couple of books (starting with Annihilation Score) but this hit the spot much more for me.

Of course, it’s hard to say anything about the plot without huge spoilers for previous books, but suffice to say the extra-reality threats that have been hinted at throughout the series are in full force. The threat level has risen over the course of eight books, and by this point the stakes are as high as can be.

What can go more wrong than tentacled horrors from the deep, or god-like horrors from other dimensions? What about an all-too-realistically dippit government disbanding the agency that stands between us and Them??

If I had to pick fault (and it’s a review, it’s half the point), then to be honest I really wasn’t keen on the sex-as-recruitment stuff; I dunno, it just felt lazy and icky. There’s a tricky path to be trod through the last chapters, as the operation is split into three missions, and we jump back and forth between the three in an almost-too-much fashion.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this and felt that it was Laundry Files back on form. And best news? I’m about to start the next book to find out the fallout from signing deals with devils…!

Paperback: 435 pages / 11 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Laundry Files book 8
Read from 19th-29th December 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Nightmare Stacks – Charles Stross

nightmare stacks cover

“A vampire is haunting Whitby; it’s traditional.”

If you’ve not read any of the Laundry Files before, this might not be the best place to start. It’s not the worst, either, since we’ve got a new PoV character in Alex Schwartz, but you’ll miss a lot of background. For instance, Alex’s unfortunate infection with V-syndrome, turning him into a PHANG (aka vampire). Or why ‘Mr Howard’ is spoken of in such revered terms, or what put Mo in the hospital. You don’t *need* to know any of that, but it was a fun journey learning all of that information.

If you are up to date, then Nightmare Stacks alludes to events to date while being its own story. Alex is dealing with his vamp- urm, PHANG-ness, the loss of his high-paying City job, and his new government employer seeing fit to twist the knife by sending him back to his home town of Leeds.

Meanwhile, in another dimension, the last bastion of a suspiciously Elfish race is deciding that their only hope is to find another world to conquer as their new home. Guess where looks promising?

I’ve always enjoyed the Laundry Files and the mix of humour and supernatural and mundane. To be honest, I didn’t entirely take to the previous volume (although I said nice things about it at the time), thinking that Mo made a poor lead compared to Bob Howard. Here, I’m still missing Bob, but the omniscient narrator voice wasn’t as irksome.

Story-wise, I found this a mixed bag. I actually got a little bored at points, with the author showing a whole lot of research on tanks and artillery and other zzzz items. The story concept wasn’t at all bad, but the revelation in some of the darker, nastier bits didn’t seem to be as well balanced with humour as I was expecting.

Still. A good read, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the two volumes that have been published since.

Paperback: 385 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Laundry Files book 7
Read from 22nd November – 9th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

Lucifer (season 1)

lucifer poster

Once upon a time a little graphic novel series, Sandman, told of the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar, growing bored of the job and deciding to decamp to Los Angeles – where else?! He opens up a nightclub and sets about living life to the full, encouraging the mortals around him to do the same.

Neil Gaimain’s story was picked up by Mike Carey, and Lucifer got his own spin-off comics – which have now been adapted for the small screen, but with the same irreverent humour and sympathy-for-the-devil tone that would probably have my granny rolling in her grave. Ahem!

So… after a shootout at Lux, his nightclub, Lucifer ends up consulting for the police department. He’s soon rather obsessed with Detective Chloe Decker – possibly the one person on earth who seems immune to his plentiful charms. But talking of immunity, how is Lucifer’s power, and his invulnerability, going to be affected by a prolonged stay in the mortal realm?

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, seeing as it was squirrelled away on a less-than-handy broadcaster. Still, better late than never – except for the bit where, after three series, they’ve only gone and cancelled this! Is it still worth watching? Hell, yes! 🙂

I absolutely love the story here. It’s dark and funny and not as blasphemous as some might think (ymmv). More, the intrigue levels are kept high – I practically bounced off the sofa at the big cliff-hanger statement setting up season 2!

Tom Ellis does wonderfully as the sardonic, not-quite-slimey-somehow title character, utterly clueless as to why he can’t walk through life doing and getting what – or who! – he wants. The fish out of water schtick works really well when your outsider character is a fallen angel with the power to make people blurt out their deepest, darkest desires…! His relationship with the detective is so-so, but his experience with therapy (yes, really!) is a hoot, and his faithful demon, Mazekeen, is absolutely kick-ass and I love her a lot!

Best of all, perhaps, is the way that Lucifer is so upfront about who and what he is and watching all the humans around him try to turn into into something else – metaphor, delusion, etc. Waiting for the penny to drop for some of them is the least of what’s keeping me watching, but watching I am! More!! #SaveLucifer all the way!

First broadcast: 2015
Series: 3
Episodes: 13 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10

Greenglass House – Kate Milford

Greenglass House cover

“There is a right way to do things and a wrong way, if you’re going to run a hotel in a smugglers’ town.”

It’s the first day of the Christmas holidays, and Milo already has his homework out of the way so he can enjoy the festivities with his parents. Then, disaster: the usually quiet season for their family-run hotel is disturbed by not just one unexpected guest, but an increasing parade of odd and shifty characters. It seems obvious that they’re all looking for something – probably the same thing – but what on earth could be hidden in the home Milo’s lived in all his life?

After reluctantly teaming up with the housekeeper’s youngest daughter, Meddie, the pair set out to discover the secrets of Greenglass House. After all, it was once owned by a famous smuggler…

I am so, so glad I took up the recommendation to read this book – and to read it instantly, not do my usual of adding it to the insane reading pile – as it is quite possibly the best thing I’ve read in ages! Fair warning: it’s a ‘middle grade’ book, so the main character is about eleven, but think Narnia or Sabriel – by which I mean, the themes are still a little dark at times, and the language is totally not ‘dumbed down’, despite the suitable-for-younger readers status. It’s also hugely suitable for older readers, who are open to having a little magic in their lives 🙂

There is an absolute magic in this story, in the way it swept me up and stirred up memories of childhood adventures – or at least, the ones I imagined, whereas Milo and Meddie get to have the reality of familiar surroundings becoming so much more exciting. The plot is a perfect mix of mystery and adventure and a little of the supernatural. It’s also got a huge amount of heart, not least from the background detail of Milo’s adoptive status. Overall, it’s just lovely!

Not only was I utterly in the mood for that, but reading this actually reminded me of why I want to write: to capture the excitement and enthusiasm for stories, for adventures. I can’t give that anything less than full marks!

Do yourself a favour: at time of writing this is still on sale in the Kindle store, under £2. It’s an absolutely perfect, slightly cosy but still exciting book to snuggle up with and particularly appropriate for the Christmas season. Go go go!! 🙂

Kindle: 384 pages / 15 chapters
First published: 2014
Series: Greenglass House book 1 (of 2 so far)
Read from 11th-15th October 2017

My rating: 10/10

Death Overdue – Allison Brook

death overdue cover

“Time to move on.”

I’m getting quite fond of the ‘cosy mystery’ genre, turning to these kinds of titles for easy and uplifting reads. I also love books set in libraries, so this sounded like a win-win.

Carrie Singleton is getting ready to leave her childhood town again and go back to her rootless existence when she’s offered a better role at the library where she’s been temping. One of her first tasks is organising a talk by a former police detective, one who’s now promising to solve the cold case he failed with fifteen years before: the murder of a local mother and library employee. However, it seems that the secret killer might be less than keen to let him have his say…

There’s plenty to enjoy reading this book, but in all honesty I can’t give it a very high rating. It’s a lot more ‘chick-lit’ and romance-based than I would have hoped, which could be fine, but alas that pushes the mystery and paranormal bits not only to lesser importance but to rather rushed and not-great written parts. The opening murder, for instance, seems very clunkily handled: a ‘I know I need this bit, but not quite how to write it’ feeling, which is a real shame.

There’s also the usual fluffy genre failing of the heroine’s too-perfect life falling into her lap. First it’s the near-perfect job – okay, that one comes with half an explanation. But then there’s the massively reduced rent on an amazing house, interested dishy men to chose from, family who spoil her endlessly, enemies made good, and heck – we can even squeeze a kitten in here because why not?! I didn’t even wholly like the main character, with her goth look so easily cast aside, murky reasonings for turning sleuth and quite frankly daft ways of stumbling onwards, and not-great treatment of other characters.

Still, it was easy enough to read and keep going with, despite the flaws. Perhaps the next in the series will be able to build on the strengths – an intriguing and helpful library ghost, for instance, or perhaps an explanation as to how this particularly library is so well-funded – and lose some of the fluffier failings.

NetGalley eARC: 336 pages / 37 chapters
First published: October 2017
Series: A Haunted Library Mystery book 1
Read from 6th-11th October 2017

My rating: 5/10

The Witch at Wayside Cross – Lisa Tuttle

Witch at Wayside Cross cover

“The man was dead, and although he had not cut a particularly large or imposing figure when he was alive, his lifeless body seemed to take up more space in our entranceway than a whole crowd of living, breathing visitors.”

The first book in the Casebooks of Jesperson and Lane, The Curious Affair of the Somnambulist and the Psychic Thieffinishes one mystery only to tease us with the start of the next: a frantic late night visitor who drops dead in the investigative duo’s front hall. So of course this follow-up installment picks right up where we left off.

Billed as a paranormal-ish take on a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery, this time we follow our detectives out of Victorian London and into the Norfolk countryside. It seems the dead man was a devotee of a pagan-like cult, keen to bring back ‘natural’ British magics to rival the mysticism coming from the East. However, it’s one thing saying that ‘witch’ simply means practitioner of herbalism and the like, and another to avoid the age-old fears, especially when a baby goes missing.

I still love the ideas of this series, from the Victorian setting to the smart female detective. However, while I do think this improves on a few of my irks from the first volume, it’s not quite perfect. Ms Lane narrates a little less of her feelings, which is great, but if anything Jasper Jesperson is becoming more annoying: certainly, to drag his supposed partner across country but refuse for the whole trip to reveal a single thing about his suspicions, would have earned him a swift kick in the shins from me!

Perhaps that is the problem: it’s nice getting a female co-lead, but she has then either to act very out-of-time, or feel very old-fashioned. This is only highlighted in these pages, when Ms Lane has to defend her choice of being a woman and employed, and more scandalously, to traipse about the country with an equally unmarried man. Heavens!! *fans self* I do applaud the author for trying to walk that thin path, and mostly successfully, at that.

Another path to be carefully trodden is the balance between the detective mystery and the supernatural. You do have to go into these books knowing that it has that supernatural twist, otherwise it might feel a bit strange when not all of the mysteries – which develop nicely in layers here – are solved by logic! This mix is fairly well handled, putting me in mind of something of a cross between The Suspicions of Mr Whicher (the real life case behind which is actually referenced here) and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, with folklore being very real.

Minor grumbles aside, this was an enjoyable, fairly easy read, with a great period setting plus a darkly gothic atmosphere. I’ll be looking out for the next ‘Curious Affair’ 🙂

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages / 25 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Curious Affair of / Casebooks of Jesperson and Lane book 2
Read from 13th-16th August 2017

My rating: 6.5/10