Book Review: Charles Stross’ The Apocalypse Codex.

Counting this one, the last three books I’ve read are all parts of their own respective series.

It’s kind of funny, as (with certain notable exceptions), the longer a movie series goes on, the more likely it is to take a nosedive in quality. With books, it’s a bit different, as an author has far more control over the development of a series, and each book gives an author more and more practice. Of course, this in turn can lead to a sort of a bell curve, for whenever the author stops caring and starts phoning it in or just scribbling down crazy shit (I’m looking at you, Fritz Leiber).

Lucky thing is, Charles Stross is still in the ‘can write good books’ part of the bell curve, so woo!

The Apocalypse Codex is a Laundry Files novel, which I’ve covered before. The condensed explanation is “Office Space meets Lovecraft as a spy novel.” But, since this is the fourth novel in the series, things are a little more complicated than that.

Once again, we follow the exploits of Bob Howard, computational demonologist. Bob is still working for the UK’s super secret anti-Elder-Thing bureaucracy, The Laundry. It’s called The Laundry because that’s what it’s “officially” classified as so nobody will pay attention to it. After dealing with a horrible death cult in the last book, Bob has to deal with an even worse fate.

He’s getting promoted.

Specifically, Bob is assigned to watch over some “External Assets,” magic practicioners outside of The Laundry’s direct control. The External Asset in question is code name BASHFUL INCENDIARY, also known as Persephone Hazard. Persephone, a practicing witch and black-arts-ops expert, is exactly the kind of character you would expect to be named Persephone Hazard. I just started watching Leverage lately, so I pictured Persephone as being played by Gina Bellman.

Rowr.

They’re soon caught up in a plot centering around an American televangelist who, surprise surprise, is using his megachurch cult in order to summon Things Man Was Not Meant to Know(tm). Spy adventures and occasional glimpses of cosmic horror ensue. One thing I will give Stross a lot of credit for is that, while the megachurch cult is undoubtedly a horrible, awful organization, Stross never makes them a strawman. It’s often too easy to paint all Christians (or organized religion in general) with a “they’re bad!” kind of brush, which just comes off as lazy writing.

The Apocalypse Codex escalates both the action and the magic from previous Laundry novels. Before, Bob mostly ran magic apps on his PDA, but now we’re running into characters like Persephone who can rattle off nth dimensional invocations off the top of her head. The bad guys have bumped themselves upwards as well, exerting control over most of the state of Colorado, courtesy of some tongue-eating mind-control bugs. This makes for a fun, rollicking adventure, though, so I can’t complain.

My only real complaint about this book is that, once again, Stross tries to have his cake and eat it too. The Laundry novels started as first-person accounts, but as the plots grow more complicated, Stross has worked in more and more third person accounts to show perspectives other than Bob’s. Bob even mentions this in the first chapter. It’s still a bit off, though, but what can you do. It’s also worth noting that The Apocalypse Codex (along with all the other Laundry works), is very English. As an Ugly American, I’m pretty sure I missed a whole lot of wry English jokes. (BASHFUL INCENDIARY is a reference to an old English comic strip, for example).

All and all, The Apocalypse Codex is a solid Laundry novel- and heck, it’s a solid Spy/Urban Fantasy/Cosmic Horror mashup, as well. Definitely worth reading if you’re in the mood for something a little different. It’s not wall to wall grim and gore, but there are still a few bits peppered here and there. Enough I don’t have any hesitation using the “horror” tag, at least.

Speaking of horror, with Halloween season being officially upon us, I’ll be reading a couple more horror books over the course of the month! Themes, and all that. Though there’s actually a bunch of non-horror books coming out in October as well, so we’ll see how well I can keep the horror thing going. Stay tuned!

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2 Comments

  1. I wanted to read Stross forever then read Saturn’s Children and came away unimpressed. I mean, he’s obviously brilliant, but the book is kind of a hot mess.

    • I actually reviewed Saturn’s Children awhile back! It’s … an odd mishmash of a book. Probably not the best place to start with Stross. “Hot Mess” is a good term, but I get the feeling he did a lot of it on purpose.

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