The Family Trade by Charles Stross
|Charles Stross is an amazingly prolific British speculative fiction author who has garnered multiple Hugo nominations in just about every category, and finally recieved his first award last year for the novella The Concrete Jungle. His science fiction novel Accelerando has been nominated for this years Hugo for best novel, and is available for free download here.|
Stross has quickly -- his first novel was published in 2001 -- set science fiction on it's ear. He's been referred to as the next-big-thing for so long now, and constantly produced at such a high level, that he has fulfilled this prophesying. A Charles Stross novel has become an event; a must read for all fans of speculative fiction. Every novel released has a damn fine chance of being next year's Hugo Award recipient.
The Merchant Princes series is Stross's first foray into fantasy, and like his previous science fiction, it stands apart and breaks new ground.
Miriam is a reporter for a tech magazine, or rather she was. She's just been fired for uncovering a money laundering operation that seems to be a lot bigger and far-reaching than she'd ever imagined. When she goes home to tell her mother about what's happenned, we are apprised of a bit of interesting history -- Miriam was adopted 32 years before when she was found in a park next to her stabbed-to-death mother. The one heirloom left by her mysterious true mother is a gold locket.
This locket has a pattern that proves entrancing, and before Miriam knows what happenning, she is transported to a pre-industrial world. She soon discovers that she is a long-missing heir to a merchant family who has made their living trading between the worlds, and is thrust into family politics and intrigue.
The Family Trade and The Hidden Family (its sequel) were originally written as one novel, but due to the politics and economics of the publishing industry was split in two. This does not in any way detract from the story itself -- Mr. Stross has crafted the halves into complete stories in and of themselves, while remaining a part of a whole.
The story itself has drawn many comparisons to Roger Zelazny's Amber series, due to its parrallel worlds, but while the comparison is apt, The Merchant Princes remains incredibly original.
The story telling is fast paced and well written. The adventure is startling and exhilarating. This is one of the best fantastical series currently being produced, (I'd place it second only to A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, though vastly different) and for it alone, Charles Stross deseves all the hype.
I may possess a special fondness for these books because they take place partly in my hometown of Boston. Not only that, but there are references to the mall which is attached to the hotel in which I first met Charles Stross and heard him speak during a Boskone convention. It doesn't effect the story in any way, except to give a sense of realism and be pretty damn neat.
Charles Stross is no longer just a name to watch. He is at the cutting edge of speculative fiction, and his books will continue to garner fans. Now is the time for investment in his books in hardcover, and Clarkesworld Books has each and every one of the titles mentioned here in first edition hardcovers signed by Stross for less than retail price. It's a can't miss proposition.