Charles Stross: The Family Trade – Merchant Princes #1
Two books, one story. I bought them as individual books, but they are now available in the omnibus The Bloodline Feud.
Damn you, Charlie Stross! I was just getting into this when it ended inconclusively and thereby forcing me to immediately order the second one in the series. Yes, it’s that good!
When Miriam, an investigative journalist, uncovers something dirty and takes the scoop of the century to her boss, she’s immediately sacked along with the analyst whose done some of the research with her. Later, at a loose end, she visits her adoptive mother only to be given a family heirloom, a locket with a strange pattern on the inside. Later, at home, she discovers that pattern enables her to walk between worlds. What meets her in that alternate America is stranger than she ever thought possible. It turns out she’s the long lost heir to a fortune and is part of a clan of families who make millions in the import/export trade and via a series of courier operations, running drugs and high value commodities via various inter-world routes.
The whole new family situation is a vicious tangle of politics. Several different factions seem to want Miriam dead and she doesn’t know who to trust. And then there’s Roland, a somewhat distant cousin, world-walker and her forbidden lover, Can she really trust him?
And just when it’s getting warmed up with Miriam accepting her place in the alternate world and determining that she would make changes from the inside… it stops.
Charles Stross: The Hidden Family – Merchant Princes #2
Ah, good, a satisfying ending to the second Merchant Princes book without tying up all the loose ends. Miriam is now settling into the idea of being Helge, the long lost countess with a whole heap of money at her disposal courtesy of the Clan who walk between worlds and who are settled in an alternate America that’s pretty well stuck in the medieval period. (Castles, mud, poor sanitation and disenfranchised peasants.)
This story opens immediately after The Family Trade finishes and really the two books are one continuous story. At the end of book one Miriam had gone to ground in the regular American world, hiding out with her friend and business partner, Paulette, trying to keep from getting killed by two separate factions from Other America. At the same time she’s trying to move her own plans forward for separating the family from its trade in illegal drug smuggling by proving to them that there are better ways of making more money. She suspects there’s a third world and finds it via a locket taken from a dead assassin.
This book is mostly about Miriam finding that third world, New Britain, and starting up a proftable business in it. It’s another historically diverse America, but still under British rule, at war with the French, so very security oriented, and at a level of technology that thinks steam-driven motor cars and airships are the ideal method of transportation. Miriam’s idea is to take the ideas from old (expired?) patents and sell them as new industrial ideas, starting with brake shoes for steam cars. She’s advancing tech in New Britain while making money from the industrial processes.
But all this has to be done while world walking between the three worlds, which is physically painful and too exhausting to do without resting in between. The only things (or people) that she can bring over must be literally carried across the threshold. So no bringing in fully formed combustion engines.
And there seems to be a new Clan that no one else knows about. They’re based in New Britain and harbour a grudge against the five wealthy world-walking clans in the second world.
This races to a confrontation where Miriam must face the whole Clan in a Special General Meeting (more like a courtroom drama) while at the same time, the mole on the Clan’s power base is moving against them all.