I was a huge fan of the first two novels in the series. I happily reviewed The Family Trade and The Hidden Family and gave both books solid reviews. Seeing as the two books were originally written as one novel, it is perhaps unsurprising that they should be of similar quality. However, when the third novel appeared, I quickly devoured it but could not help but feel a bitter taste in my mouth. I suddenly had the horrible feeling that the series has lost it’s way and, despite the series since earning Stross a Sidewise Award for Alternate History, I imagine that a number of other people might have been put off by the third novel too.Actually, I have an odd feeling for this series. I was put off by The Family Trade, but thought The Hidden Family was solid and really got me going with the storytelling. The Clan Corporate was another turn off and I would agree with McCalmont in the series losing its way. It brings me to the beginnings of a Fred Saberhagen theory (1980’s pitcher for the Kansas City Royals). For a number of years Saberhagen would have outstanding years in the odd years. Even years he was merely a good pitcher. Books 1 and 3 were weak, I though (and I still can’t get over that awful opening of The Family Trade where Miriam “dives into her closet” and “rips open a bag of clothing with her teeth”. The quotes may not be exact, but Miriam dove and ripped and this is an accurate representation of the opening. So, if The Merchants’ War turns out to be the best of the series so far, then my Saberhagen theory (flipped to the “Even” books will begin to hold up.
This cerebral approach to story-telling explains Stross’ attraction for what are essentially spy stories but given the amount of action that does go on in The Merchants’ War, you can tell that it’s a pattern he’s trying to break. As a result, the book is arguably the best the series has seen since the first book and it is miles away from the frustrating and introverted The Clan Corporate. The Merchants’ War is a proper adventure story and it’s a load of fun to read as a result.God, I hope so.
And I also find myself wanting to quote larger and larger blocks of McCalmont’s review. He’s got me excited for the new book and the new directions Stross is taking the series, but also just because I love how McCalmont clearly lays out salient points about the novel / series without slipping into simple plot description. This is a review I aspire to write one day.