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The Annihilation Score (A Laundry Files Novel) by Charles Stross
Review by Ernest Lilley
Ace Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 0425281175
Date: 07 July 2015 List Price $26.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Read an excerpt / Show Official Info /

I was a bit put off by knowing that this chapter of Charles Stross' Spys v Chuthlu wasn't about our favorite IT bumbler, but his immensely talented wife, and that they've hit a bump along the road of togetherness to boot. He's possessed by a creepy spirit that wants to kill her violin, which is in turn possessed by a creepier spirit that want's to kill him. And they've both been kicked up the management ladder because there wasn't anybody else to do the job. It turns out quite well, and if you've enjoyed any of the Laundry series you hardly need my encouragement to read this one, but you have it anyway. Also, math = magic is just another branch of it's all quantum mechanics and we're in a digital computer universe. It's looking more and more reasonable all the time.

If you've been following the Laundry Files, Charles Stross' engaging series of spy novels in the style of different masters of the genre, you know that things don't always go well for Bob Howard, former coder and analyst turned secret agent against the forces of unthinkable Lovecraftian horror, or for his wife Dominique O'Brien, "Mo" to her friends, master musician and owner of a violin with sticker on the case that reads, "This instrument kills demons." Which by the way, is not a joke. The violin in question is made of human bone, gruesomely collected long ago, contains a powerful demonic spirit itself, and in Mo's hands, just the tool to disrupt the most powerful of magics.

Which is what we find Mo doing with it at the outset of the story, summoned by the Laundry to stop a super-powered prankster who’s in the middle of London levitating naked Londoners to the top of a monument to make a human sculpture or something. When the mayor of London suddenly lofts skyward, Mo steps in, playing her tune against the annoying troublemaker. Unfortunately, she wasn’t quite able to keep to the shadows, and viral video suddenly put an end to her life as a clandestine operative.

But there's worse to come.

The violin itself has taken into its head to kill her husband, our beloved Bob, who (if you've been following this saga) you'll remember is also possessed of a demonic spirit none too happy about the contest of wills. The whole lot of them are so unhappy about things, what with the possibility that one or the other of them will wind up compelled to kill their spouse in the middle of the night, that Bob moves out.

Oh, but that's not the worst of it.

First Bob, courtesy of an attack on headquarters, has just been promoted to his boss's position in management. They've been grooming him for a long time, so it's no real surprise, but timing is everything. So Bob spends much of the book offstage, flitting around the world taking care of booby-traps his boss left for the unwary, and neither of them has time to worry overmuch about the domestic thing. Though of course they manage to fit it in anyway.

No, probably the very worst of it is that now that Mo's become a public figure of sorts, they give her a public facing job. Think Nick Fury. Mo is suddenly the head of a government sponsored superhero response group that doesn't actually exist yet, but really needs to get set up yesterday, putting a politically correct team of superheros in the public eye doing good and providing role models for everyone that suddenly discovers they can boil tea at a distance or something, which has been happening more and more often as the walls that separate the magical from the real get thinner and thinner, bringing on the apocalypse they have so charmingly have labeled, "Case Nightmare Green".

To make things interesting, someone in HR has a wicked sense of humor, staffing Mo's senior levels with her worst nightmares, the gals that have been providing sexual tension in each of Bob's adventures. Could things get worse? Sure. Plenty.

Look, there's just no point in spoiling it all for you. Bob and Mo are having a bit of trouble, Mo's been kicked upstairs and is working way too hard, there’s some romantic temptation thrown into the mix, and by the way it’s time for someone to save the world. What are you waiting for?

I've enjoyed Bob's adventures so much that I thought The Annihilation Score would let me down. Not a chance. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and you will too.

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