Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Season of Skulls [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Charles Stross, book 12 or 13 (depending on who you ask? Amazon or Tor, respectively) of the Laundry Files series, and the third book in an internal trilogy starting with Dead Lies Dreaming and Quantum of Nightmares.
A.k.a. “The Dream-Quest of Evelyn Michelle Starkey.” This third novel of the New Management trilogy dependent from the Laundry Files series is focused fully on Eve, who had been drawn conspicuously to center stage in the previous book. I have grown to like her, but I don’t know if this book is a suitable point of entry to the Tales of the New Management, in part because it picks up so late in her character arc. Imp and his team are decidedly on the fringes of this story.
For the children’s literature angle developed in the previous two books (which riffed on Peter Pan and Mary Poppins respectively) this one exploits Through the Looking-Glass. The Black Pharaoh and Prime Minister of England N’yar-lat-hotep effectuates more of his aspect as the intelligence governing dreams, when Eve takes on the role of Alice.
For subject matter, it includes a foray into Regency gothic, a highly articulated historical romance sub-genre. It may thus appeal to fans of the supernatural Regency hit Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but as contrasted with Clarke’s book, Season of Skulls indulges in a great deal of pointed anachronism. Besides Eve’s own 21st-century perspective, the chief oopart is the Village, from the Patrick McGoohan television series The Prisoner. In looking-glass fashion, people from Eve’s world have counterparts reflected into 1816.
The whole story was strikingly similar to the author’s previous novel Glasshouse, which involved a carceral theme and “time travel” via simulation. In both books, the protagonist gets to experience the patriarchy of an earlier age as a woman. In Glasshouse she is previously male. In Season of Skulls she is previously a frigid girlboss.
I could tell that Stross did a lot of historical research to tell a story that he passes off with his usual glibness. This book may have spent the longest time in composition of any of the Laundryverse tales. I did enjoy it, and I wonder what has happened since 2017 in that world.