The Trade of Queens by Charles Stross (Merchant Princes 6) a Review

I am afraid this book won’t give the resolution one could expect of the sixth and final book of a series. This book is more about politics and economics than our protagonist Miriam.  It is still a nice read though.

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Jacket art: Paul Youll

A dissident faction of the Clan, the alternate universe group of families that has traded covertly with our world for a century or more, have carried nuclear devices between the worlds and exploded them in Washington, DC, killing the President of the United States. Now they will exterminate the rest of the Clan and keep Miriam alive only long enough to bear her child, the heir to the throne of their land in the Gruinmarkt world.

The worst and deepest secret is now revealed: behind the horrifying plot is a faction of the US government itself, preparing for a political takeover in the aftermath of disaster. There is no safe place for Miriam and her Clan except, perhaps, in the third alternate world, New Britain–which has just had a revolution and a nuclear incident of its own.

Charles Stross’s Merchant Princes series reaches a spectacular climax in this sixth volume. Praised by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman as “great fun,” this is state of the art, cutting edge SF grown out of a fantastic premise.

The plot: Rogue elements of the Clan’s conservative party detonate suitcase nukes in Washington D.C. at the same time they try to assassinate or subvert the progressive party with foreseeable consequences.

Miriam grasp the chilling consequences immediately and tries to convince the clan to evacuate to New Brittan where the revolution is progressing into an internal power struggle. Mixed up in it all is the other side of the family and a rogue doctor pitching an army of world walkers.

With the president killed in the attack, former clan collaborator and vice president WARBUCKS becomes the new president keen on shuffling all his secret under the carpet in one go he orders a genocidal strike on the Clan’s homeland.

One of the loose ends on the alternative US timeline is Mike Fleming DEA agent and former boyfriend of Miriam. His part is one of the more entertaining, especially when he tries to get into the news warning about the upcoming attack, but are not believed, and the reporter realizes what he missed followed by a long arc.

Another entertaining bit is about letting all the different agency’s in on the clan secret after the first bombings. Lots of disbelieve there.

Characterization: The characters are well enough developed but I get a feeling Mr Stross was more interested in world building, economics and politics than in building the characters. There are intriguing and interesting characters here but it feels like the heart is not really there. There are many of the characters I would have liked to know more about.

The world building is nothing spectacular. What is interesting is that he first pitched this as a fantasy to circumvent the contract he then had. His revised contract excluded Merchant Princes from that exclusivity so then he could continue it as SF.

I understand it is difficult to get total closure with so many characters and so many sub plots, but I can’t avoid feeling a bit cheated if the story ends here.

The Trade of Queens and the whole Merchant Princes series is a decent read, and if you have the time and the money go ahead. But otherwise go for Charles Stross other works like Singularity Sky or Saturn’s Children, they are much better in my opinion.

Read Charles own Post Mortem of the series