The Labyrinth Index: The American president is missing and that’s a bad thing

The Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThe Labyrinth Index by Charles Stross

The Labyrinth Index (2018) is the ninth novel in Charles’ StrossLAUNDRY FILES epic. This installment features Mhari, Bob Howard’s psycho ex-girlfriend who we met back in The Rhesus Chart when she and her colleagues at a bank accidentally developed some software that turned them all into vampires.

Now she’s Dame Mhari Murphy – she’s been elevated to Baroness and she works for the new government in England. Her boss is N’yar Lat-Hotep, the Black Pharaoh, who’s been reincarnated as the new Prime Minister of England after the country was forced to make a lesser-evil type of deal with the ancient god to prevent the rise of Cthulhu.

The Prime Minister sends Mhari and her team on a dangerous assignment: They are to infiltrate the United States, which has been sealed off from the rest of the world for a while now, and attempt to find and, if needed, rescue and/or kidnap the President. It seems that the Americans are under some sort of geas which has made them forget the entire Executive Branch of their government. (If only!) The Prime Minister realizes that evil forces (including several U.S. government agencies) are trying to run a massive computer program which will awaken Cthulhu and allow him to take the President’s place. This will be a lot easier if the Executive Branch is out of the way. Only a few members of the Secret Service have been able to avoid the geas.

Mhari isn’t able to take the Laundry’s best agents because they’ll be recognized in America and promptly kicked out. Instead, she has to assemble a rag-tag team of mostly losers and nobodies. She knows that most of them probably won’t make it out alive and that includes the man she’s in love with. To make things more difficult, Mhari is constantly having to deal with the problem of needing to drink human blood to survive.

The Labyrinth Index is another fast-moving and fun volume in this long twisty epic. How can you not want to read a story that mashes up Cthulhu and Powerpoint? Or one that makes you realize that the current American president maybe isn’t the worst possible leader we could have? (True story: I own and used to wear a “Cthulhu/Dagon 2016” t-shirt and now I’m re-thinking that.)

There are some great fight scenes in The Labyrinth Index and, as always, Stross does a great job balancing the very dark plot with plenty of tension-draining humor. The story is told in a non-linear fashion that keeps us on our toes.

Mhari isn’t my favorite Laundry character, but I enjoyed her story more than I thought I would. I really miss Bob Howard, though. He makes only a brief appearance in this volume and we don’t really get a sense of what he and Mo are up to. And something terrible happens to my favorite Laundry character in The Labyrinth Index.

But then, something terrible has happened to everybody in Stross’ world because it looks like the Earth is now just an energy source, playground, and battlefield for ancient evil (and slightly lesser evil) gods that will have no qualms about destroying all of humanity as they interact with each other. I’m wondering how Stross is going to get us out of this predicament.

The audiobook edition of The Labyrinth Index by Recorded Books is excellent as always. Bianca Amato narrates this one.

Published in October 2018. The arrival of vast, alien, inhuman intelligences reshaped the landscape for human affairs across the world, and the United Kingdom is no exception. Things have changed in Britain since the dread elder god Nyarlathotep ascended to the rank of Prime Minister. Mhari Murphy, recently elevated to the House of Lords and head of the Lords Select Committee on Sanguinary Affairs (think vampires), finds herself in direct consultation with the creeping chaos, who directs her to lead a team of disgraced Laundry personnel into the dark heart of America. It seems the Creeping Chaos is concerned about foreign relations. A thousand-mile-wild storm system has blanketed the midwest, and the President is nowhere to be found. In fact, for reasons unknown the people of America are forgetting that the executive branch ever existed. The government has been infiltrated by the shadowy Black Chamber, and the Pentagon and NASA have been refocused on the problem of summoning Cthulhu. Somewhere, the Secret Service battle to stay awake, to remind the President who he is, and to stay one step ahead of the vampiric dragnet that’s searching for him.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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5 comments

  1. I thought Britain didn’t have the title of “Baroness,” but they do, it’s “Baron” that no longer is used. So, kudos to Stross– I shouldn’t have doubted him.

    This sounds like a “dirty dozen” style story, which I usually like, so I will probably read it even though, like you, I’m not crazy about Mhari. Clearly, Stross is broadening his canvas and passing the storytelling torch to the “new generation” of agents.

    • And given the circumstances you describe in the book, with the people of earth helpless before maga-evil creatures, would you say it’s his first “realist” novel?

      • Um, oops. “maga” was not intentional. No, seriously, not intentional I meant Mega. I swear.

        • haha!

          Actually, the U.S. president in his story isn’t modeled on our current president. That would have given Stross more fodder, but maybe he wanted this story to seem more generic and timeless.

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