The Hidden Family picks up at the end of The Family Trade and continues that story’s basic premise, in both good and bad fashion. In the good, the story remains fast-paced, a quick and entertaining if not too deep read.
Stross introduces us to another world here, one that lies somewhere between our own and the Clan’s both technically and socially, opening new and more interesting settings. Miriam remains an active, strong character, joined by others equally strong. Questions from book one are answered while new ones are raised. And as he did in book one with regard to the medieval setting, Stross continues to capture the gritty reality of non-modern times, unlike many fantasy authors, though at times he does so too obviously, as when he has one of his characters shrilly make that point in a lengthy paragraph.
On the bad, the story continues to be bedeviled by jargon. Miriam still is too accomplished, too pre-set in convenient fashion to take over the situations. The characters still lack some depth and the romance, as it was in book one, reads as if Stross can’t decide if he wants it realistic or as parody. And some of the questions answered seem a bit too pat or contrived. The book does come to some resolution at the end though it also obviously leaves room for more.
If the first book was mildly recommended, this one is as well, perhaps less so as one would hope for some improvements between one and two. The addition of the second world does add interest, however, so recommended it is, if not with a lot of excitement.
Merchant Princes — (2004-2009) Publisher: Miriam Beckstein is happy in her life. She’s a successful reporter for a hi-tech magazine in Boston, making good money doing what she loves. When her researcher brings her iron-clad evidence of a money-laundering scheme, Miriam thinks she’s found the story of the year. But when she takes it to her editor, she’s fired on the spot and gets a death threat from the criminals she has uncovered. Before the day is over, she’s received a locket left by the mother she never knew — the mother who was murdered when she was an infant. Within is a knotwork pattern, which has a hypnotic effect on her. Before she knows it, she’s transported herself to a parallel Earth, a world where knights on horseback chase their prey with automatic weapons, and where world-skipping assassins lurk just on the other side of reality — a world where her true family runs things.The six families of the Clan rule the kingdom of Gruinmarkt from behind the scenes, a mixture of nobility and criminal conspirators whose power to walk between the worlds makes them rich in both. Braids of family loyalty and intermarriage provide a fragile guarantee of peace, but a recently-ended civil war has left the families shaken and suspicious.Taken in by her mother’s people, she becomes the star of the story of the century — as Cinderella without a fairy godmother. As her mother’s heir, Miriam is hailed as the prodigal countess Helge Thorold-Hjorth, and feted and feasted. Caught up in schemes and plots centuries in the making, Miriam is surrounded by unlikely allies, forbidden loves, lethal contraband, and, most dangerous of all, her family. Her unexpected return will supercede the claims of other clan members to her mother’s fortune and power, and whoever killed her mother will be happy to see her dead, too. Behind all this lie deeper secrets still, which threaten everyone and everything she has ever known. Patterns of deception and interlocking lies, as intricate as the knotwork between the universes. But Miriam is no one’s pawn, and is determined to conquer her new home on her own terms.