Thursday, August 9, 2012
The 4th Laundry Novel Works...Despite Lame Antagonist
THE APOCALYPSE CODEX by Charless Stross (2012 Ace Books / 326 pp / hc)
In Stross' 4th Bob Howard 'Laundry' adventure, our favorite computational necromancing demonologist spy is sent to America after a wealthy televangelist visits the UK and shows off his healing skills...and manages to get a bit too close to the Prime Minister. And as fate would have it, there's much more going on at the Rev. Ray Schiller's Colorado-based megachurch than meets the eye.
(For those who don't know, Bob Howard works for the Laundry, a super-secret British agency commissioned to protect the world from Lovecraftian and demonic threats--think 007 with magickal powers).
This time Howard is aided by lone-wolf agent Persephone Hazard (MAN do I hate that name!) and her buddy Johhny (who wields two very nifty soul-sucking knives) as they go up against Schiller and his deceived flock of alien-parasite-possessed converts. Most of the action takes place in a snow-bound Colorado town, and unlike the previous novels there isn't much humor, and we actually see Howard maturing in his ways (somewhat, anyway). He's not as goofy as before, although he still makes decisions that are a bit less than desirable. Despite this slightly more serious tone, Stross brings the fun fans of the Laundry series have come to expect--although it seems to come in shorter spurts than before, especially the finale that seemed to end WAY too quickly.
While I found THE APOCALYPSE CODEX a satisfying Laudry tale, Stross seems to have forgotten about the Laundry itself, which provided much tension and humor in the past; here they only show up sporadically, and it seems that THEY now rely on Howard more than he relies on them (and to prove it, Howard is given a fine promotion at the conclusion). I'm hoping their mysterious nature will be seen better in the next book.
My main gripe, however, is with Ray Schiller: here's an antagonist bent on unleashing an ancient alien God upon the earth, yet I found him about as threatening as Joel Osteen (I'm assuming Stross was trying to make some point here on the plastic-nature of most megachurches). Thankfully, Stross employs the aforementioned parasites as well as Russian civil war zombies (!) to attack our heroes in another dimension, otherwise there'd be very little threat going on here.
If you haven't read a Laundry novel before, I suggest catching up before coming here. You won't be lost, but you'll see a Bob Howard who's a bit different from the one we fans have come to love.