Book Review 2008 #16: The Merchants War

Next up is the fourth book in Charles Stross series about a clan of world-walking drug dealers, the Merchants War shares the strengths and the weaknesses of the previous volumes and ramps up the action and plot nicely.

Book Three, Clan Corporate ended with a marriage announcement and gathering that went horribly wrong as, simultaneously, agents from a US Government agency managed to make their way across to the world of the Gruinmarkt into the middle of a gathering set to marry the heroine, Miriam, to a brain-damaged son of the King, and said gathering went up in flames.
Book Four shows the smoke clearing from that event as Egon, elder son of the King, takes control of the situation and decides Something Must Be Done. At the same time, Miriam, barely escaped into the third world of New London, has new problems with the police forces in that world. And of course Mike, part of that op across to that world, has problems of his own.
What’s more, not content with merely working out the consequences of these plots, Stross throws a new puzzle in the mix, and starts to answer a long standing question of the series: just what is the mechanism that allows the Family to really worldwalk in the first place.
Splendid, vivid writing, great plot and action and character bits make this another winner for Mr. Stross. I particularly liked Mike’s view of Olga, a character we’ve seen before through Miriam, and now get new sides and facets as we see her through the eyes of Mike, and get a sense that she’s even more competent that we really knew. The world and set up are just as intriguing as before, if not more so, with the revelations made in the book.
The major flaw in the book, and once again its not Stross’ fault, really, is the marketing. The book, like a couple of the previous books, has an “ending problem”. These books have been sliced and diced and released in a suboptimal way, in my opinion. The book simply ends without a real attempt at a crescendo.
Still, fans of the previous three novels will love this one, and if you haven’t started reading this series–go get the Family Trade and get yourself started. World walking scions, battles in a medieval world with guns and an ultralight(!), intrigue, mystery, fine writing and character development. Its a tasty chili of goodness.