Thursday, 30 January 2014

The Family Trade by Charles Stross

This was just okay. Oddly, it had exactly the opposite problem as the last (and only other, so far) Charles Stross novel I've read so far. Neither are enough to put me off reading more. When I read Singularity Sky, I found the writing very dense, and was often at sea, with no real idea what was going on. In The Family Trade, I initially found the writing style too simplistic. Whether that changed, or I finally got into the rhythm of the book, it's hard to say. But either way, this isn't a classic. But neither is it terrible.

Miriam is a business journalist (and formerly a doctor, which is just a little bit too much of stuffing ALL THE SKILLS! into one character). She uncovers a huge business conspiracy, and is promptly fired by the magazine she works for, and warned off of looking into it any further. However, this soon becomes moot (and virtually forgotten, although there are a few allusions that the "family trade" could be behind it) when she is given a locket belonging to her birth mother, who had been horribly killed when she was but a baby.

The locket moves her between worlds, poof! To a North America with very low technology level, and a European feudal society. This society is ruled by a king, but de facto controlled by The Clan, a group of families that, with a certain (but not too much) amount of inbreeding, can use the lockets to walk between the two worlds. (Who first discovered this talent and how?) Once there, she is hailed as her mother's heir, heir to two noble families, and not incidentally, therefore, a major threat to the Clan's operations on our world, on their own, and a lot of people's dynastic and pecuniary interests. So people try to kill her. A lot.

The Clan is into some shifty business. They may courier things for their side, by moving them quickly in our world to their destinations. But they also courier things that it's all right if they go slow, just as long as they arrive. And evade the notice of police. Any guesses as to what that might be?

So Miriam has to figure out a sort-of feudal society, where women are starting to change their roles, but not entirely, and where any one of a number of people might be out for her blood. And she falls, fast, for a cousin. Which, you know, in theory in that world, might be fine. Not so much in practice. The romance is, regrettably, a little weak. It happens very quickly, and I never entirely bought into it.

And yet why am I saying that this was okay? The writing grew on me, Miriam grew on me, and although I never loved it, I may check out the next book in the series to see where it goes from here. I'll certainly check out his other serieses at some point.

But my main gripe was that this book just...stops. There's little pacing, it's obvious that this is first in a series, but there really isn't any building to a climax and then resolving, leaving cliffhangers for the next book. This just stops, in the middle of the story. So maybe that's why I'll check the next one out.

I hope I like other Stross' better. I love reading his twitter feed!


  1. The sudden stop is not entirely Stross' fault - it was initially supposed to be the first half of a much longer book, and he was told with something like a week's notice that the publisher was breaking it in half. So he didn't have time to rework things into an actual ending.

    He's spent a chunk of time on his own dime last year re-working the entire series to flow better, among other things fixing the sudden break at the end of book 1. I *think* the reworked version is out in the North American market now.

    That said, as much as I love Stross' works (I like the spasming mind shock of Strossbabble in the books like Singularity Sky), this series is one of his most boring. He doesn't get into the interesting aspects until, I think, late book 2 or possibly even book 3.

    It's really science fiction where the "science" in question is economics, and a critique on the tropes of Fantasy fiction.

    Sadly, it's also one of his better selling series, so he's writing more, as opposed to follow-ups to some of my favourites like Glasshouse. His next few are going to be Family Trade generation 2, and more Laundry books.

  2. Ah, that does make sense. It did feel very abrupt.

    Yeah, it was probably the least favourite of his books I've read so far. I do like the Laundry books a lot, though.

  3. Okay, if you liked Nancy Drew as a kid. If you're expecting another Singularity Sky or Iron Sunrise, you will be extremely disappointed. File under Teen Fiction. Cliff hanger or not, I'm out.