Another book that’s part of an ongoing series. I rather like the cover of that one, btw. – definitely trashy, but in a good, fun way.
This is the fourth volume in the Scottish author’s Merchant Princes series – or, since (as he explained on his blog a while ago) this is really a trilogy whose installments have been cut in half, it’s the second part of the second volume. That means, that the series moves past its halfway mark with this volume, and this is noticeable in the plethora of characters and locations the novel moves between.
The series has come quite a way from the first part that was centered mainly around one character, and took place in no more than two worlds; also, while the first one or two volumes still looked a lot like fantasy novels (probably not the least because the basic concept of a family being able to travel between worlds is very reminiscent of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber), this most recent one places it firmly in the science fiction genre. While definitely being one of Stross’ lighter offerings, it is evident he took some effort with the world building and it all comes across as very plausible, in particular the economic part. Indeed, economics play a major part in the series (it even got some praise from this year’s economics Nobel prize winner), it’s called The Merchant Princes for a reason.
In this volume, though, the Clan’s and the main protagonist Myriam Beckstein’s attempts to make the world-walking business profitable takes a backseat to military and political maneuvring as the Clan finds itself targetted by both a pretender in its feudal native dimension as well as a US government agency in ours, while Myriam spends most of the novel on the run from the police in the dictatorial pseudo-Victorian world she ended up in. There is a lot going on in The Merchants’ War and it has action aplenty… but even so, I found it to be draggng along a bit. While on one level, it was satisfying to watch Stross put the pieces of world-building together and to see everything snapping into place, on the plot level I just couldn’t bring myself to care that much about what was going on. The characters certainly aren’t underdeveloped, but owing to frequent changes of perspective and the somewhat relentless pacing of the book, I found it difficult to impossible to develop much of an interest in what was happening to them, which did somewhat mar my enjoyment in what is otherwise a good read (if not quite up to par with Stross’ other work).
Something else that bugged me is the way this novel ends, or rather doesn’t – it’s not even a cliffhanger, it just stops apparently arbitrarily right in the middle of what should have been the climax of events in this volume, leaving the reader not so much hungry for more as rather gritting her teeth and majorly annoyed.
All of which doesn’t mean I’m not eagerly looking forward to the next volume, of course, which apparentely be called (rather promsingly, I think) The Revolution Business.