The Hidden Family

Even more books! I'll admit I started reading The Jennifer Morgue today at lunch so I figured I'd better stay on track. I'm seriously contemplating modifying my book review policy. The problem is that later volumes in a series seem difficult to me. Today I'm here to talk about The Hidden Family which is book two of The Merchant Princes and nobody is going to care about The Hidden Family unless they've read The Family Trade. But if they have read the first book then they already have an opinion of the series and it's unclear that I'm providing any value. There's a very serious argument that I should just go ahead and note "Yep, it's more of the same." and then move on reviewing Vernor Vinge's Rainbow's End. On the other hand, maybe a comment thread tagged as "Spoiler", means that we could discuss the book without worrying about giving away the big secrets? There's a topic of open discussion. Is anybody actually reading these? If you are, do you find the reviews of volumes two and three worthwhile?

As usual, I won't spoil The Hidden Family, but I will assume that spoiling The Family Trade is fair game. If that bugs you then read no further.

The Hidden Family continues piling it higher and deeper on poor Miriam. One thing I will call out and praise Stross for is that it doesn't feel like an Act II. This book is a good story on it's own merits, in part because the series doesn't have a traditional trilogy structure. In some ways The Hidden Family and The Family Trade work more as a duology than I expected. While it's clear that Miriam's story has further chapters many of the story arcs are concluded at the end of this book. Miriam's relationship with the Clan is solidified and all of the not-so-subtle hints in the first book about the sixth family resolve. The seeds of new story lines are sown throughout the novel, but it closes at least as many plot lines as it opens (I'd say it closes more than it opens, but perhaps that's a debateable point.)

Overall I liked The Hidden Family more than The Family Trade, but I'm not going to claim it will change your mind wherever you fell on the first book. In the bulk this is more of the same. If you liked book one then I can easily recommend book two. I noted in my review of the first book that it seems almost rushed, like too much is crammed into the start. I think The Hidden Family benefits in comparison, and this is a large part of why I like it better. All of that frantic sketching in of the modern world can be taken as given and we know quite about about the world of the Clan and Gruinmarkt already. Miriam is still in way over her head and learning a lot but at the same time she knows a lot more than she did in book one and things unfold at a more normal pace.

I'd be curious to know how The Merchant Princes books are selling comparing to Accelerando or Glasshouse. The general wisdom is that fantasy outsells science fiction these days, but of course Accelerando got a lot of attention due to being nominated for the Hugo and winning the Locus Best SF Novel. The reason why I wonder is that while I like The Merchant Princes just fine there's nothing really compelling or unique there. It's well executed fantasy, and it is a pleasure to read but I don't really feel like it especially required Charlie Stross to write them. As opposed to Accelerando which is simply mind-blowing and I can't imagine coming from any other writer I know of. I'd be sad if the Stross' SF output is impacted by his fantasy works. I don't mean that as a strong criticism - I'll be happy to read the next book in the series, just that I don't see it as Stross' best work.

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