The Labyrinth Index (2018) is the ninth novel in Charles’ Stross’ LAUNDRY 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.