After stumbling upon the algorithm that turned him and his fellow merchant bankers into vampires, Alex Schwartz was drafted by the Laundry, Britain’s secret counter-occult agency that’s humanity’s first line of defense against the forces of darkness. Dependent on his new employers for his continued existence—as Alex has no stomach for predatory blood-sucking—he has little choice but to accept his new role as an operative-in-training.
For his first assignment, Alex is dispatched to Leeds to help assess the costs of renovating a 1950s Cold War bunker for use as the Laundry’s new headquarters. Unfortunately, Leeds is Alex’s hometown, and the thought of breaking the news to his parents that he’s left banking for the Civil Service, while hiding his undead condition, is causing him more anxiety than learning how to live as a vampire secret agent preparing to confront multiple apocalypses.
Alex’s only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a drama student appearing in the local goth festival who is inexplicably attracted to him despite his awkward personality and massive amounts of sunblock.
But Cassie has secrets of her own—secrets that make Alex’s nightlife behaviors seem positively normal…
Look, I’m not going to lie to you: I have a bizarre fetish for all things bureaucracy. Not the actual existence of bullshit jobs or menial rules, mind you–I just think the very concept of bureaucracy is fun to read about. Charles Stross has an eye for this weird little sub-genre: he’s capable of poking fun at byzantine rules while at the same time reaffirming that those very rules may just prevent an invasion of Elvish terrors who can adeptly wield magic.
The Nightmare Stacks starts a little heavy, and if you don’t share an enjoyment of back-channel goings-on, you might find yourself wavering a bit. Hold on. Keep with it, because it turns out all those safeguards and complex safety regulations are absolutely necessary. By the time you find yourself learning Cassie’s dark secret (and the consequences of failure or success), you’re going to be hooked.
Stross has been writing The Laundry Files for a while now, and the world he builds is both complex and refreshing. It takes the idea of Apocalypse to strange, new worlds and then throws those worlds at our world and then mixes in magic and Hell horrors that even the bureaucrats try not to think about. I was hooked the moment I discovered The Hand of Glory in the very first novella in this series. This is the kind of sci-fi that you should be reading: it’s original, it’s fun, and it completely upends our own safe little world with a blending of Occult and satire.
Stross is good enough at character development that he can cycle, which is no easy task. It means ensuring that the world he creates is strong enough that he can introduce new people on a regular basis, which is important because you never know when someone is going to accidentally conjure forth a tentacled blood-sucking horror from beyond.
Start wherever you want … Stross provides explanations. So many explanations, in fact, that you might find this super-secret Apocalypse Prevention Agency’s labyrinthine rules and regulations somewhat exciting.