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The Delirium Brief: A Laundry Files Novel Hardcover – July 11, 2017
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“Stross still spins a heck of a yarn.” ―Kirkus Reviews on The Delirium Brief
"Gaudy and gory....This is Stross in one of his darker moods....The political side of the book...signals some of the real-world anxieties that stand behind the entire series." ―Locus on The Delirium Brief
“A fast-paced blend of espionage thrills, mundane office comedy and Lovecraftian horror.” ―SFX on The Rhesus Chart
“Alternately chilling and hilarious.” ―Publishers Weekly on The Jennifer Morgue
“Combines a le Carré-style espionage thriller with Lovecraftian horror to great effect.” ―The Guardian on The Fuller Memorandum
“Smart, literate, funny.”―Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians
“A bizarre yet effective yoking of the spy and horror genres.”―The Washington Post Book World
“Imagine a world where gnarly Lovecraftian demons are all too real yet are routinely neutralized with high-tech wizardry by a supersecret British spy agency, and you'll get an inkling of the genre-bending territory Stross explores in his Laundry Files novels.” ―Booklist on The Fuller Memorandum
About the Author
CHARLES STROSS is a British SF writer, born in Leeds, England, and living in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has worked as a tech writer, a programmer, a journalist, and a pharmacist; he holds degrees in pharmacy and in computer science. He has won three Hugo Awards for his short fiction, including in 2014 for Equoid, a Laundry Files novella originally published on Tor.com.
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The following is intended to be a spoiler-free review for this book, but may contain light spoilers for earlier books.
I'm thrilled that there are more books coming in the series (and the book ends well, with a lovely set-up for whatever comes next), but this book is very much a culmination of various Chekov's firearms strewn about the previous books. That said, this should not be the first book in the series you read, for the same reason.
The last several Laundry books broke away from the "imitate spy author X, now imitate Y..." (Chandler, Fleming, etc.) pattern. Then there were books that were superficially about urban fantasy (vampires), super heroes, and fantasy (elven SS invaders).
I'm not even sure what this book is (in a good way), but it starts out as one kind of a spy thriller (dead drops, car chases, that sort of thing), moves through a... well, consequential things happen and the tension seriously ramps up, an evil plan is revealed... and then there's the last third/quarter. (Boom.)
Plenty of twists and WTF moments. Although there's a massive conclusion (playing out across multiple locations simultaneously), this book's important threads are satisfyingly resolved (while threads for the next are laid down).
So, you know how in the last book Leeds was trashed and there was a body count? Yeah, things are much worse than that in this book.
A lot of urban fantasy and similar conceits depend on what the TV Tropes pages call "The Masquerade." It is an annoying assumption; that somehow the outside world goes on like normal, up to and including the protagonist having to get to school on time after a long night fighting monsters. The Laundry series had an extra-strength one going for the previous books, with binding geas and similar Men In Black tricks to keep their existence secret.
Not in this one. Spoiler ahead; the events of the previous book made it pretty clear that hiding was no longer an option, but this one is only a few chapters in when all those annoying geases fall apart, the Q-armory of magic toys is locked up, the black budgets pulled, and our heroes are left blinking and unhappy in the bright sunlight (particularly unhappy, in the case of Alex and his Scrum friends from a couple books back).
And then it gets worse (this is a Laundry book after all). The dancing stops and the masques come off ...at the stroke of midnight in the seventh room.
We return to Bob Howard as our central protagonist after the last two books (Annihilation Score & Nightmare Stacks) centered on Mo and a young vampire mage named Alex. As a big fan of Bob's voice that was a plus for me. I've felt that ever since Bob took on the mantel of the Eater of Souls (briefly in the Fuller Memorandum and permanently in the Rhesus Chart) that there was a lot of scope to explore the superhuman powers and responsibilities he has inherited and how that might not be conductive to living a happy normal life.
But elements of Bobs return were frustrating for me. We really don't get to see any growth in Bob. He's been traveling around the world locking down eldritch horrors that were the responsibility of his predecessor Angleton. There is even a reference to him helping to fight kaiju in Japan. Clearly there is a lot of dark stuff happening globally as we continue to inch closer to CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN! But we don't get to see any of that. And we see no real sign that Bob has "leveled up" in his powers or persona. (Or even leveled down grappling with PTSD and/or powers he can't control). Instead Bob seems to have been marking time...essentially in the same head and power space we left him in during the Apocalypse Codex and Rhesus Chart several books ago.
If Bob's development was being saved for this novel that might have been okay. But instead we see Bob largely being given the fungus treatment by the Senior Auditor as terrible things happen. We've seen Bob being given fungus treatment while terrible things happen and it has played well in the past. When Bob was young, relatively without resources and new to his powers Bob emerged as a hero because he was clever and lucky and tenacious in his opposition to "terrible things." Part of why I liked Nightmare Stacks as much as I did was because young Alex resembles young Bob.
But with Bob as the Jr. Eater of Souls/Angleton this doesn't sit as well. Angleton was always two or three steps ahead of the enemy and that should now be Bob's job. Fungus treatment and stumbling around just makes Bob (and the Laundry) look dumb. As the Eater of Souls and possessor of at least some of Angleton's secrets, Bob really shouldn't need the help he gets in the book to establish safe houses or sneak to ground unwanted attention. And I feel he should have shouldered more of the responsibility for counter attacking against the "bad stuff."
To be fair, the Laundry's organizational structure (and indeed the British Government) collapses as a result of the bad stuff that happens in the book leaving us with a giant cliff-hanger as we wait for the next and supposedly final installment of the Laundry. We may get everything I have just asked for in the final installment.