Title: The Atrocity Archives
Author: Charles Stross
Series: Laundry Files, book 1
Published: Originally published 2004, 2010 by Recorded Books
Read: December 28 to 30, 2013
Genre: Urban fantasy, Lovecraftian, spy thriller
So this was the last novel I read last year and I finally had the brain space to sit down and write-up my thoughts on it.
I have a thing for spy novels, I used to read a lot of spy thrillers. One of my favourite non f&sf series is the Hamilton series by Jan Guillou about a Swedish spy (don’t judge a book by its movie) and one of my favourite tv-series is Spooks. I also really like stories about agencies dealing with the supernatural – I probably just watch too much X-files, but it is a setup that fascinates me. So the Laundry Files has it going for it from the get go.
As part of my 25 short stories in 25 days challenged I read the short story Equoid set in the same universe before I read The Atrocity Archives, which is the first book in the series. The audiobook comes packaged with the novelette The Concrete Jungle as well as the main novel – I count that as a separate read though and I don’t think I will be talking about it here. My review of that is on goodreads (points to link above).
I really liked the book. It works really well as an introduction to the universe and the premise. Bob Howard (the POV character) already knows quite a bit about how things work and explain it along the way, but we also get to learn quite a bit more both about what is going on with the setting and about his organization right along with him. This is a quite typical tool in urban fantasy and one that I like quite a bit.
I am not a great fan of H. P. Lovecraft, ok that is an overstatement, but lets not get into that. However I think Stross makes the Lovecraftian mythos really work. I have seen Neil Gaiman do it really well as well as a lot of people get do it poorly. It is not an easy thing to pull off, the whole so horrible that your mind can’t cope trope is really hard. But I think Stross really makes it work for him.
Bob explains the world and the supernatural to us in quite technical terms, a bit like The Doctor’s techno babble, but way more technical and detailed. Because I read the book as an audiobook, it didn’t slow down the reading experience for me. I just tuned out the bits that I didn’t understand and appreciate the parts that I did. My high school physics was enough to understand most of it and get the drift. I really enjoyed it, but I can see how it might turn off some readers.
I really liked the plot and the finanally was great! And I think the whole sub-plot with Mo. I really like how their relationship develops. It is a nice low-key romance that never takes over more than a few pages of the story at a time. And I love how she is really grumpy at him a lot of the time.
Speaking of lovely sub-plots. Pinky and Brain (his roommates) are just awesome characters. I love the whole scene where Brain is making an omelet without breaking any shells. And as always I love it when the fact that they are a couple don’t come up until it is relevant to the plot, it is not their defining characteristic by a long stretch.
But I think the thing that sold me on the book and original on the short story is the humor. There is such a dry British wit in these books that it is just a joy to read. The humor is quite understated but has me laughing out loud and giggling.
The book do however feel a bit like the first episode of a tv-series, it does not feel like it has quite found its feet yet and the characters have not quite figured out how to play their characters yet. But I grabbed the next one, just like I would do with a promising tv-series and I have started to listen – ready to see what we will get next. And I do think that in The Concrete Jungle it feels like the series has found it’s legs and is ready to run with it – it is by the way quite an enjoyable story.
The book to tend to be categorized as horror, which I think is wrong, not all stories that uses the Lovecraftian mythos are horror, the book borrows way more from spy thrillers and urban fantasy than from horror. It isn’t really spooky or particular horrific. It is however a book about the hidden supernatural world behind the everyday where people are fighting a secret battle to keep normal people safe. Does that sound like a horror story to you?
I also have to address the horrible cover! Because, what were they thinking? I got the audiobook from a friend a while back and it took me reading Equoid to pick up the story and listen to it because, seriously it looks like a bad science fiction story from the early 90s. And the new covers they have tried out are just as bad. The later covers in the series are however really neat. The one coming out later this year, looks pretty awesome. But of course that just goes to show that I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
I did by the way run into thelaundryfiles.wikia.com today which you should check out if you like the series because it is neat.
The author: male, white, United Kingdom
The protagonist: Bob Howard, male, white, strait, it wiz, able-bodied.
Setting: London, present day