Friday, July 21, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Traders' War (Merchant Princes Omnibus #2) by Charles Stross

The Merchant Princes series is a series in which our main character, Miriam Beckstein, a tech journalist from Boston, discovers that she is part of a family of multiversaas a mafia family to get rich and power in a medieval parallel Earth.  The series follows the resulting chaos that occurs when Miriam is reintroduced into her family, and her highly intelligent and curious nature can't help but try to change the things she finds.

The series was originally a set of six books, but was later condensed into three omnibus editions, with each Omnibus containing definitive revised versions of two books.  I reviewed the first Omnibus, The Bloodline Feud, HERE. The first book was pretty much heavily carried by Miriam, which worked because Miriam is terrific in that book - a "force of nature" (to quote one character in this book) guile hero who drives the plot and is a blast to watch work and to root for. Unfortunately, this second Omnibus often sidelines Miriam and really badly misuses her, at one point in a really problematic way.

Long Review continues after the Jump (Minor Spoilers for The Bloodline Feud I suppose, but nothing major, and nothing that should ruin your experience of reading that book).

This second book greatly expands the plot (we go from 1-2 major plots to 4 major plots here) and focuses a lot of attention on other characters, both new and old - whereas the first book nearly entirely followed Miriam's point of view, this one probably spends only half of its time following Miriam (maybe less).  The good news is that Stross' plotting is excellent - of the four major plots - one in our world, one in the Clan's world, one in New Britain, and one that occurs as the Clan starts to suspect there may in fact be more worlds out there - 3 of the four are highly interesting and make it fairly easy to read on.

The bad news is that this book REALLY misuses Miriam.  To try and explain this, let me quickly summarize the plot:
----------------------------Plot Summary---------------------------
In the chaos caused by Matthias going rogue and to the Feds at the end of The Bloodline Feud, the Clan is in disarray, and as a result Miriam is essentially in House Arrest in the Clan's Universe, unable to go to her firm in New Britain or her home back in Boston.  Meanwhile, factions in the clan are scheming to marry her to the brain damaged son of the local King to tame her and to create a Clan heir to the throne.  However, the heir to the King fears this is a plot to kill him and take over his standing, and may have something to do with it.  Can Miriam survive and take advantage?

Meanwhile, on our Earth, DEA agent Mike Fleming, who coincidentally used to date Miriam (Before she dumped him), has debriefed Matthias and gets roped into a Black Operation designed to help the USA counter the threat of the clan, and possibly to strike back into the Clan's own universe.  And if the DEA can get into the Clan's universe, Mike might just find himself trying to setup Miriam as an agent for the USA on the inside.....

In New Britain, Erasmus continues to use Miriam's provided gadgets to help the resistance against the New British Monarchy.  But the stakes have never been hired, with the French seemingly haven acquired Nuclear Weapons.

And Finally, the Clan has begun to suspect that, having learned that an alteration to the knot results in travel to a 3rd world, that there are other worlds out there.  As a result, a small group of young Clan members are tasked to try to see if other alterations might result in travel to other possible worlds....

As you can tell from that summary, Miriam spends practically the first half of the book essentially under house arrest, not driving the plot but instead being driven by the plot itself.  It's a lousy turn of events for a character who is such a magnificent driver of the first book, and it's really annoying (I can't imagine reading this in its original form, when this would take up the entire 3rd book).  Even in the 2nd half of the book, Miriam has little room to get creative, due to the situation she finds herself in.  Mike Fleming essentially becomes more of the protagonist, and he's not nearly as intersting as Miriam.

That's to say nothing of what happens to Miriam halfway through.  Spoilers in ROT13 below:

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The book isn't all bad despite these complaints - basically 3 of these four plots remain interesting and the book functions very well as a fascinating multiversal spy/mafia thriller.  While not as good as Miriam, Mike is a decent main character to follow and when on screen (which unfortunately is not as long as we'd like), Olga is still just a joy.

But god, what a waste of a phenomenal main character.  I have purchased the third omnibus to get the conclusion to this story, but I'm really hoping things turn around.  Stross has started a successor series to this one, and if the third omnibus isn't better, I guess it won't be on my list to read.  So here's hoping.

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