The Family Trade (Merchant Princes)
by Charles Stross
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0765309297
Date: 01 November, 2004 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
When The Family Trade opens, Miriam Beckstein is on the verge of a very bad day.
A successful business journalist with a medical background, Miriam has found the story of a lifetime: proof of money laundering among major pharmaceutical companies. But pitching the story to her editor costs Miriam and her researcher friend Paulette their jobs, their peace of mind ... and maybe more.
Despondent, Miriam goes to visit her adopted mother and gets a box of stuff that belonged to her long-dead biological mother, including a battered locket. When she opens it up, the pattern inside catches her eye -- and sends her to a parallel world. Chased by knights with submachine guns, she manages to return to Earth, but now finds herself in a deadly game played for control of two worlds.
It's enough to make her previous problems seem trivial.
Miriam is a long-lost noblewoman of the Clan, an association of families who use their world-walking talent to make themselves phenomenally wealthy. Miriam is quickly caught in the snares of their byzantine interfamily politics, which include assassination. She survives attempts on her life by using her wits instead of superior firepower, figuring out the rules as she goes.
With the help of Roland, an earl and distant kinsman with whom she forms a bond, Miriam tries to gauge the Clan's weaknesses and figure out their plans for her. As a neophyte among these sharks, she fears she won't know how to play their games until it is too late. And among the Clan, there are certainly fates far worse than death.
Charles Stross has created a sort of Amber 2.0, taking the notion of world-spanning family intrigue pioneered by Zelazny and Farmer and adding some very modern twists. How does the Clan become wealthy when they can only move a small amount of merchandise between worlds? Hm...
He does an excellent job of creating a world where the Norse conquered all and left their world in a permanently feudal state. Gruinmarkt lags far behind Earth in technology and is dominated by the economic power of the Clan. There is a king but his power is circumscribed by the Clan's, and Miriam fears that she will be compelled into an arranged marriage with the idiot Prince Creon. The fear of an arranged marriage seems a nicely anachronistic touch but makes perfect sense in context.
Fans of Zelazny's Amber books and Farmer's World of Tiers novels are very likely to enjoy this new book, the beginning of a series.