Someone lent me books three to five, ok? There’s going to be a Stross glut. Not my fault. Well, ok, it *is* my fault, because I could have read my other book in the meantime, but since that is “Rethinking the Other in Antiquity” I didn’t think anyone would want to hear me talk about it in any case.
So anyway. Stross. More betentacled escapades. I’m actually quite pleased I moved straight onto this next one (though I do have a bone to pick with it, which I’ll get to later) because it holds up quite well in direct comparison to book three. There’s a distinct upward trend, at least partially down to the fact that Stross spreads the books out chronologically quite far, so the main character grows the heck up quite a lot as we go on. I found the plotting and pacing of tAC much better handled than in the previous book (and it wasn’t particularly badly done there), and it just felt in general better executed. Also, we get some new characters who are very spoilery, but also extremely excellent. The problems I noted with tFM (lack of Angleton, lack of Pinky and Brains) do continue, and that really is quite sad because they’re great characters who could do with more time and development, but overall, it doesn’t really get in the way because there’s a good reason for the book not really covering them much – it’s set in America. This does, among other things, means we get more information on the Black Chamber. I won’t go into how much or what, because spoilers again, but because it’s been lurking in the background for the last few books, anything new on it is always going to be welcome. But it also means we mostly/partly get Bob in isolation, rather than among colleagues (even with the new characters we get), and I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I don’t really like Bob all that much, so this isn’t ideal for me. Granted, he seems to be getting better and better, book by book (I think as Stross ages him as a character and also matures his perspective – I swear he’s getting less smug), but I still don’t actually like him.
The new characters are, frankly, excellent. Especially Persephone. She does the understated but definitely present hyper-competence which all the best characters manage. She just… has style. And kick-ass-itude. And she’s called Persephone! And gets stuff written from her perspective. It’s a multi-win situation for all concerned. She’s not quite so involved as to be fully a main character, but she gets so much more time than Mo or Angleton do, and it was definitely something that was needed. She also heralds an enormous, game-changing exposition-dump, which I really enjoyed for several reasons (some of which entirely petty). Stross writes her pretty well, I think – better than any of the other female characters who really get any page-time, for sure – and doesn’t fall into any awful traps with her, so I really hope she’s something we get to hang on to in later books. The other guy is cool, but nothing special. Hyper-competent as well, but less… excitingly so, and much more a non-character in terms of personality and story. I have no complaints but don’t love him or anything.
Now the criticism. It’s a milder one, because Stross didn’t exactly do anything wrong, per se, but… I’m a bit iffy about how he handled the baddies in this book. It’s not much of a spoiler to say this (it comes up really really early in the book) – the bad guys are an American evangelical church. Well, ostensibly. Obviously because Stross there are nightmarish betentacled horrors involved too. But on the surface, American evangelicals. And Bob is a stated (and not infrequently mentioned)… well, not atheist because he knows about the aforementioned betentacled horrors, but otherwise atheist. And the two kind of… clash a bit. Not exactly overtly, and there’s nothing I can really pin down and say “this, this sentence, nope” but there’s just a feeling of… iffy-ness in his handling of the whole thing. I just found myself occasionally going “nyrk”. I guess it was the way he characterised the organisation, and in ways where… you couldn’t always tell which bit was meant to be evil-cult and which bit was meant to be ostensibly-evangelical-christian and it just… I don’t know. I’m not really explaining myself well, I know, but it bugged me, to the extent it was the first thing I thought about when I put the book down.
If I put that aside, I really enjoyed tAC. It definitely continues the trend of the books getting better, and gives me a lot of hope/excitement for the Rhesus Chart, which is next.