After reading the first three volumes of The Merchant Princes I was half willing to completely write Charles Stross off. This fantasy series is less than impressive and while it has decent ideas about parallel worlds and secret families and has the potential to be a really strong series. But The Merchant Princes has been overall disappointing to read.
Charles Stross, on the other hand, has been lauded with most of the awards that a writer in SFF can be awarded with and he picks up nominations almost before he finishes writing a work of fiction. So maybe it was just me. Maybe I was missing something. Stross is known more for his science fiction than his fantasy, so perhaps if I gave his science fiction a shot I would find something that would live up to the hype.
I started at the beginning with The Atrocity Archives. The Atrocity Archive is a short novel which was his first published novel and the Archives also includes a novella The Concrete Jungle. The Concrete Jungle is a Hugo winner in 2005 for Best Novella.
I can only describe a small portion of what the novel is about because there are just somethings I am unable to explain properly. Let me say that the novel is set in early 2001 and there is a man named Bob Howard who works for the Laundry in London. The Laundry is a secret organization which is in place to battle the forces of darkness.
Imagine a world where the Nazis had attempted to tap into the netherworld to bring all sorts of evil to support the Third Reich and that all of this is possible and just science fact. Stross gives a level of detail to the unreal that the impossible feels almost prosaic. It is a remarkable talent.
Bob Howard (Robert E. Howard reference, anyone?) is a computer guy but wants to be put in the field on spy type jobs and his involvement without sufficient training gets him involved in events that build beyond what he ever would have imagined. Bob Howard gets involved into this very netherworld evil that the Laundry is trying desperately to stop.
What makes The Atrocity Archives quite a bit different than other SFF novels is that this is a combination of Lovecraft, Len Deighton's spy novels and perhaps a little bit of Neal Stephenson.
I think that Charles Stross is far stronger at the non-Merchant Princes work because while The Atrocity Archives read like a slow moving spy novel it kept building and building and became more and more interesting and exciting to find out what was happening next. The Atrocity Archives is worth the time spent reading it.