One of the things I love about dystopian books is the fact that they basically describe what could go wrong in the world, in great detail. And that list is almost endless. It’s fascinating to look at the way that things we take for granted, or believe to be innocuous, can be morphed into something entirely different. Michael Pogach’s The Spider in the Laurel does this exceptionally well.
This book takes place in a parallel reality to our own. In essence, the United States and much of the world has gone through a series of revolts or revolutions that have basically forbidden all talk of Belief, which includes religion, mythology, even much of mythic history. The new world order is doing its best to control what people believe, because if they can do that, they can control their people more absolutely—of course, they don’t say this out loud. Enter Rafael Ward, a Professor of mythic history who has been conscripted into helping take down believers. On his first mission, though, he gets in over his head and starts on a world-wide chase to recover something that may be lost to legend, but could change the world.
This plot is incredibly well-thought out. There is a lot going on, and it would be easy to get lost if it weren’t for the fact that everything is relatively logical and there are enough details and explanations of history and mythology to ground the reader. I enjoyed the massive scope of this novel; it was great to puzzle through and to think about. The characters made it even more entertaining, because their place in this interconnected maze was sympathetic.
Rafe Ward seems like a guy caught up in things beyond his control. He’s been conscripted into the REC to help destroy artefacts of Believers, but he teaches mythological history at university. The world surrounding him is incredibly complex and there are machinations behind machinations. Only, Rafe is far from dumb, so he figures things out before anyone would like him to; this only puts him into greater danger.
As a character, Rafe is very interesting to read. His character development from start to finish is quite staggering. Part of it is that we learn a considerable amount about him throughout the novel. Part of it is that the circumstances push him to his limit and he is forced to grow. But the amount of depth that Rafe displays is impressive. The only other character that comes close is MacKenzie, who also shows a good deal of depth, but not nearly as much as Rafe. Which, frankly, reads perfectly well.
I really enjoyed all of the historical digressions, discussing things that are apocryphal or mere legend. There was obviously a great amount of research done and I really liked to see the integration into the wider plot of the novel. That, and I just really like the application of history to the wider context of a book.
I think the only thing that was a bit off was to do with some of the more intense action sequences. They read well, but every now and again something would seem to jump and I would have to backtrack and figure out how we got from point A to point B. On the whole, this did not interfere with the story at all, but it was a little jarring and took me from within the story to without.
If you’re interested in a book that is both incredibly well written, and incredibly well thought out, this is definitely one for you. I would say that the intricate nature of this book was done extraordinarily well. I rarely see something so massive done to this degree of capability and I enjoyed it thoroughly. This book has great characters, fascinating world-building, a whole slew of entertaining plot points and history thrown in for good measure. The Spider in the Laurel is definitely on my list of best books for 2020.