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The Family Trade: Book One of the Merchant Princes    by Charles Stross order for
Family Trade
by Charles Stross
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2004 (2004)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I found that Family Trade (first in a new Merchant Princes series) started just a little slowly, but when it took off, it sprinted. Though it's been compared to Zelazny's Princes of Amber and the series do share a central theme of intra-familial plots and rivalry taken across parallel worlds, Stross's style is very different, much more of a straightforward adventure story than Zelazny's more lyrical approach.

The good life begins to disintegrate for hi-tech magazine reporter Miriam Beckstein after she, aided by researcher Paulette, uncovers a 'goodfellas' money-laundering scheme. When they take the story to executive row, they're quickly escorted from the building, fired for 'looking at pornographic websites'. More sinister threats quickly follow. Sound like a ho-hum thriller plot? Read on. Naturally, Miriam takes her woes to her adoptive mother Iris, who urges her to fight back, and at the same time gives her the only legacy left from her birth mother. It's a locket, whose inside is 'a knotwork design, enamel painted in rich colors.' Looking hard at the pattern gives Miriam nausea, a splitting headache and a trip to another, somewhat medieval, dimension, where armored men on horseback shoot at her.

She heads home fast, but curiosity leads Miriam to further experimentation. Unfortunately, this leaves ripples which draw attention to her, and turn her life inside out. We learn that Miriam is really Helge, and a kind of 'Mafia princess' in another world, also that her Clan has a violent way of dealing with dynastic disputes. Soon Miriam/Helge is trying to understand the customs of her birth world before they kill her, while dodging assassination attempts across dimensions, and plotting a restructuring of the 'family trade' to get herself out of this mess. The only good news is handsome cousin Roland, who has his own issues with the family's business methods. But can she trust him?

The Family Trade makes an excellent beginning to The Merchant Princes series. It's an entertaining mix of byzantine plots and parallel world adventure, with an intrepid, strong-willed heroine, and a cliffhanger ending that made me impatient for the sequel.

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