Stross still spins a heck of a yarn.

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THE DELIRIUM BRIEF

From the Laundry Files series , Vol. 8

Stross’ Laundry Files series, of which this is No. 8 (The Nightmare Stacks, 2016, etc.), is a weird but effective mashup of Lovecraft-ian horror, espionage thriller, science fiction, and satire, centering around a top-secret British government agency devoted to fighting "the sort of thing you expect to meet in an episode of The X-Files."

In resolving the previous book’s crisis, unfortunately, the Laundry’s existence becomes public knowledge, so this time out combat sorcerer Bob Howard, the Eater of Souls, must appear on TV to offer the usual blandishments. Poor Bob and his equally scary wife, the newly minted auditor, Mo O’Brien, can’t live together—her demonic White Violin tried to eat him, while Bob worries that he might absentmindedly eat Mo’s soul while sleepwalking. As a senior member of staff, though, Bob no longer has to worry about his expense sheets. But an evil god from another dimension is moving to take over the American government, whose about-to-be-unemployed good guys warn the Laundry that the Rev. Raymond Schiller, whose followers are deliberately parasitized and enslaved by a godlike extradimensional horror known as the Sleeper in the Pyramid, is plotting a takeover of the U.K. government. Abruptly, the Laundry’s staffers learn that their agency has been privatized and they’re all out of a job. To combat Schiller, Bob will need his most powerful allies, freelance witch Persephone "Seph" Hazard, otherworld elf-queen Cassie Brewer, and Senior Auditor Armstrong. Series regulars will find the usual humor here much reduced, with a narrative cluttered with infodumps on civil service bureaucracy, while the tone has turned bleaker and far darker. There’s little need to point out the obvious political aspects to all this. Some readers may not relish the new direction the series is taking, while others will ponder the underlying currents and conclude that it all makes perfect sense.

Stross still spins a heck of a yarn.

Pub Date: July 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7653-9466-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

A BLIGHT OF BLACKWINGS

Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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