Monday, May 17, 2010

The Trade of Queens, by Charles Stross

The Trade of Queens: Book Six of the Merchant PrincesA friend of mine once commented on a novel, saying in effect "The Dungeon Master is tired and wants to go to bed, so everybody dies". I get a little bit of that feeling after reading Stross' latest - and last - book in the Merchant Princes series. If you haven't been following the series, it's an alternate universe tale. On a planet Earth that physically resembles ours, but in which the industrial revolution never happened, there's a family of people who have the natural ability to "world walk". They focus on a special symbol and their brains take them from their world to ours.

Since none of the geopolitical boundaries in our world exist in the one next door, they're able to make their fortunes mainly by smuggling goods without ever crossing a border checkpoint. In their business, they've developed some interesting ties with organized crime and organized government. As a bit of insurance against one of their employers, who has become the vice president of the U.S., some of their agents have world-walked into secure military facilities, and absconded with some backpack-sized nukes.

Just as the previous novel ended, the Clan was involved in a massive civil war between its progressive and conservative factions, and the conservative faction somehow decided it would be a good idea to demonstrate to the U.s. that they were not to be messed with. As this novel begins, that faction sends three nukes to Washington DC, detonating two of them successfully, destroying the White House and killing the president.

In the meantime, the heroine of the series, Miriam, a woman raised from birth in the U.S., but who is actually a Clan heir and capable of world-walking, is trying to get to a safe place in the midst of the civil war. In earlier novels, she discovered a third alternate Earth, where the Revolutionary War never happened, and the Americas are still ruled mostly by a British king. She had been involved with the resistance movement there, and her contacts are now people in power after a semi-successful modern revolution.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, the U.S. government has come up with a technical solution to cross between universes, and the newly sworn in President declares war on the Clan, sending a fleet of bombers across the world boundaries to retaliate for the attack on DC.

Murder, vengeance and mayhem abound, and very few live happily ever after. Stross claims in the forward that he's done with the series, but he may have left the door open a crack for later stories in this alternate universe universe, should his publishers make him an offer he can't refuse. If you've been following this series, you've gotta read it for that sense of completion, but don't expect a great deal of satisfaction at the wrap-up.

No comments: