The Family Trade: Meet superwoman

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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

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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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