Author: Charles Stross
308 pages • £6.99
Is there anything Charles Stross can’t do? He’s SF’s latest jack-of-all-trades, applying his formidable writing talents to everything from sweeping space opera to Lovecraftian espionage, and now Stross has turned the old chestnut of the alternate world fantasy epic into a giddily entertaining and inventive saga.
First published in the US, the Merchant Princes series may have taken its time reaching the UK, but it’s been worth the wait, as The Family Trade showcases Stross’s dazzling skill with ideas and concepts, without him once losing control of the gripping story.
He’s also created an engaging and smart heroine, Miriam Beckstein, a reporter for a technology magazine who finds herself in deep water when a strange locket transports her to a medieval-era alternate universe. It’s here that she discovers her long-lost family – a Mafia-style clan who’ve turned their gift of leaping between universes into a successful venture. She’s now an heir to the family fortune, but plenty of people aren’t exactly delighted that she’s reappeared, and Miriam’s soon dodging plots, as well as making some plans of her own to drag her new relatives into the 21st century.
From the SF-style worldbuilding, with Stross approaching the realities of alternate-world travel with aplomb, to the wonderfully practical way Miriam investigates her new surroundings, this is top-notch fantasy with a rapid-fire pace and a wry humour. About the only flaw is the inconclusive ending (leading straight into book two) – but don’t be put off. Fantasies with this much invention, wit and gusto don’t come along every day.