The Family Trade: Meet superwoman

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review The Family Trade Charles Stross The Family Trade by Charles Stross

In The Family Trade, Charles Stross brings together an interesting blend of several different fantasy subgenres. Most of the characters are enjoyable and make sense in their roles, but the main character, Miriam, seems to have left her blue and red superwoman suit in her luggage. She acquires an unending stream of skills and abilities when she gets in a tight spot. Sometimes, in order to be realistic, an author needs to let the hero flounder and fail a bit.

But I look forward to the next Merchant Princes book because The Family Trade has set a stage where multiple factions appear to be competing to eradicate Miriam, and I’m hoping that Charles Stross let’s her accomplish goals through better collaboration and luck instead of a seemingly unending stash of specific expertise and spy/soldier skills that don’t make a lot of sense coming from a Med School Student/Journalist.

~John Hulet


book review The Family Trade Charles Stross The Family Trade is a relatively slim introduction to a large concept series — the idea that a Family clan has the ability to “worldwalk” between their mostly medieval world and our own via their bloodline (the ability is hereditary) and a special amulet. The main character, Miriam, is a journalist in our own modern world who, after being fired from her job, is handed an old shoebox by her adoptive mother containing the newspaper clipping about her real mother’s murder and her mother’s amulet (which of course takes her into the feudal world). Once in the the Clan-dominated kingdom of Gruinmarkt, Miriam finds she is the long-lost heir to a duke and is soon involved in the clan’s various economic and political machinations, backstabbings, and assassination attempts. As well as a mysterious third party who also seems to want her dead. Far from a passive victim, Miriam leaps full-heartedly into defensive and offensive modes, happily taking on the system’s economic, political, and social structures, such as those that seem to consider women inferior or keep in place a strict class structure.

At times one feels Miriam jumps a bit too whole-heartedly and easily into the mix. Her background and skills all seem a bit too conveniently created for just this situation, and while she suffers quite a bit of physical disorientation due to the crossings, her mental/social disorientation is all too quickly glossed over. The book also gets bogged down in jargon, mostly economic though sometimes technological as well. And while it’s compared in its publicity to Zelazny’s Amber series, though it shares the world-walking premise, it’s too a less comprehensive degree (though that may change) and its characters/world are not quite so fully developed. Nor is the voice.

That said, The Family Trade is a quick and entertaining read and if it gets bogged down in terminology and backstory, as it does, one can perhaps ascribe that to its need as a first novel to set up the next few. To that end it suffices. It’s enough of an interesting read, enough of an interesting story told well enough to lure the reader onto the next one, even if it doesn’t compel him/her to do so or make him/her eagerly wait with panting breath. Mildly recommended.

~Bill Capossere

Merchant Princes — (2004-2009) Publisher: Miriam Beckstein is happy in her life. She’s a successful reporter for a hi-tech magazine in Boston, making good money doing what she loves. When her researcher brings her iron-clad evidence of a money-laundering scheme, Miriam thinks she’s found the story of the year. But when she takes it to her editor, she’s fired on the spot and gets a death threat from the criminals she has uncovered. Before the day is over, she’s received a locket left by the mother she never knew — the mother who was murdered when she was an infant. Within is a knotwork pattern, which has a hypnotic effect on her. Before she knows it, she’s transported herself to a parallel Earth, a world where knights on horseback chase their prey with automatic weapons, and where world-skipping assassins lurk just on the other side of reality — a world where her true family runs things.The six families of the Clan rule the kingdom of Gruinmarkt from behind the scenes, a mixture of nobility and criminal conspirators whose power to walk between the worlds makes them rich in both. Braids of family loyalty and intermarriage provide a fragile guarantee of peace, but a recently-ended civil war has left the families shaken and suspicious.Taken in by her mother’s people, she becomes the star of the story of the century — as Cinderella without a fairy godmother. As her mother’s heir, Miriam is hailed as the prodigal countess Helge Thorold-Hjorth, and feted and feasted. Caught up in schemes and plots centuries in the making, Miriam is surrounded by unlikely allies, forbidden loves, lethal contraband, and, most dangerous of all, her family. Her unexpected return will supercede the claims of other clan members to her mother’s fortune and power, and whoever killed her mother will be happy to see her dead, too. Behind all this lie deeper secrets still, which threaten everyone and everything she has ever known. Patterns of deception and interlocking lies, as intricate as the knotwork between the universes. But Miriam is no one’s pawn, and is determined to conquer her new home on her own terms.

Charles Stross Merchant Princes 1. The Family Trade 2. The Hidden Family 3. The Clan Corporate 4. The Merchants' War 5. The Revolution Business 6. The Trade of QueensCharles Stross Merchant Princes 1. The Family Trade 2. The Hidden Family 3. The Clan Corporate 4. The Merchants' War 5. The Revolution Business 6. The Trade of QueensCharles Stross Merchant Princes 1. The Family Trade 2. The Hidden Family 3. The Clan Corporate 4. The Merchants' War 5. The Revolution Business 6. The Trade of QueensCharles Stross Merchant Princes 1. The Family Trade 2. The Hidden Family 3. The Clan Corporate 4. The Merchants' War 5. The Revolution Business 6. The Trade of QueensCharles Stross Merchant Princes 1. The Family Trade 2. The Hidden Family 3. The Clan Corporate 4. The Merchants' War 5. The Revolution Business 6. The Trade of QueensCharles Stross Merchant Princes 1. The Family Trade 2. The Hidden Family 3. The Clan Corporate 4. The Merchants' War 5. The Revolution Business 6. The Trade of Queens

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JOHN HULET (on FanLit's staff July 2007 -- March 2015) is a member of the Utah Army National Guard. John’s experiences have often left a great void that has been filled by countless hours spent between the pages of a book lost in the words and images of the authors he admires. During a 12 month tour of Iraq, he spent well over $1000 on books and found sanity in the process. John lives in Utah and works slavishly to prepare soldiers to serve their country with the honor and distinction that Sturm Brightblade or Arithon s’Ffalenn would be proud of. John retired from FanLit in March 2015 after being with us for nearly 8 years.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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