I like James Bond. I like Cthulhu. Can I have both in a story?
It turns out you can totally have both in the same story! Paranormal spy novels are a genre which has become increasingly popular, featuring mostly British spy agencies protecting the world from the entire array of supernatural threats. Though there are more than a few series out there in the genre, the two I enjoy most is The Laundry Files series by Charles Stross and the newer Rook Files by Daniel O’Malley.
The Laundry Files is an ongoing sequence currently at seven books set in modern day London and centered on the Laundry, an arm of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, who fight a variety of occult threats. The series has a fascinating take on magic – solving series of extraordinarily complex mathematical equations can result in opening holes into other dimensions. This allows for some cool tricks but occasionally, dark things can pop out of those holes and eat your face. In this age, ‘wizards’ are generally high-end computer engineers who use technology to run the complicated equations. The Laundry brings together SAS-type commandos and computer hackers together to fight the good fight.
Stross’s books mix in some very British humor focused on the mundane aspects of the job but make no mistake these are increasingly some pretty grim books. The explosion of computers running complex programs and equations is fraying the boundary between the real world and the darkness and the entire world is racing towards CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN – the end of the everything. These books really focus on the technical aspects of spy craft in this unique setting and they almost feel authentic – like if there ever was an organization who had to do this kind of work, they would probably look and act exactly like the Laundry.
If The Laundry Files is about the grim and technical aspects of spy craft, The Rook Files is about the glamorous adventures of James Bond! The Rook is set in the modern day as well and is focused on a more fantastical organization of spies who also fight the occult. The Laundry tried to offer a scientifically accurate explanation for ‘magic’ but the Rook pretty much doesn’t bother – their agents are born with their superpowers, raised and taught at their own Academy, and then sent on missions around the world to fight equally fantastical occult threats. It is X-Men meets James Bond meets Lovecraft. The lighter approach works – where I’m fascinated with the Laundry books and heavily invested in their race to impending doom, both Rook books can be more fun!
Which of the two do I recommend? I would say both are great reads worth your time but at this point I’m more invested in The Laundry – I got to see if the world is going to end. If you’re in the mood for a thriller X-Files style, The Laundry Files is what you want. If you are looking for spy action with a wink and a smile, The Rook Files has you covered. I read both and look forward to future installments and I imagine you would as well if you give them a try.