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on 30 September 2013
You can't gallop through these like you can the "Laundry Files" books for example, they're much too densely written for that. I've bought the 3 omnibuses in the series and read the first (this one), and stopped there for a week or two to give my aging brain time to catch up.There's just too much in them to take in all at once. Lots of characters, few of whom are what they seem, multiple universes, political entities, religions, customs, histories, etc. I guess you could call this fantasy more than SF because the only impossible gimmick (so far at least) is the universe hopping bit. All the rest follows from that in a logical but ever entertaining way. It has a touch of the still fashionable Steam Punk about it that adds to the appeal if you're a fan, but doesn't drown you in horse dung and coal smog if you're not. I can't say much more without dropping a spoiler or two, so if you like Mr Stross' work, and alternate reality stories, you can't lose with this. Get it!
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on 11 September 2013
By far the most insightful look into the implications of being able to cross between alternate universes.

Its been done in the past but not with such an attention to detail or insight into the reality of human nature.
The subtopics are crime families/money laundering/economic theory. Might appear a bit dry to some but is kept lively with frequent assassination attempts and machiavellian politics.

Reporter Miriam is fired when her investigation leads her into the shady territory of corporate money laundering. Unfortunately one of the companies involved in the laundering owns her paper. When fired she visits her adoptive mother who gives her a shoebox of her birth mothers belongings. The box contains an amulet that when looked at ports her into an alternate world. That world is ostensibly medieval - but she is suprised when guards with machine guns try and kill her.

Her investigative instinct woken up by this encorages her to dig further and she soon falls int to the hands of a family using the ability to rule the medieval world. Their power is based largely on smuggling narcotics and importing technology into the medieval world to consolidate their power. Miriam is soon embroiled in the power struggles of 'the Clan' as they style themselves.

This collects works originally published as two books into one volume. It appears that the intention was originally for the series to be collected into works of this length. I think it shows - as both books together feel like a single story with a logical conclusion point.

The story is fairly straightforward as Stross goes. None of the dark humor of the LAundry files - or the whacky SF of his other workds. The only fantastic element is the unexplained world walking ability. Its a good read, with lively characters and reads as a cross between a crime thriller and a medieval period piece.
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on 9 April 2013
This is a terrific series and I am very much looking forward to reading the omnibus editions. They are the "director's cut" versions presented as originally intended (instead of being chopped up for a more mass-makrekt-format-friendly size as first published).

Please note that this book is actually softcover and is only about 600 pages. (That is to say, you can actually read it in bed rather than with a hoist.)
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on 9 May 2016
It's a shame when a writer you've enjoyed produces a clunker like the "Merchant Princes" series. The problems aren't so obvious in this first volume but the whole thing suffers from being more intellectual exercise than passion project.

The series is essentially a portal fantasy and this first book is all setup.

We meet notional central character Miriam just as she accidentally teleports to a medieval version of north America, which turns out to be her original homeworld. She discovers she's one of the few inhabitants with the mutant ability to "world-walk", on which the ruling merchant class have built an elaborate dark-net style network to smuggle illegal drugs and arms around "our" world.

This first new world has a complex and not entirely coherent class and honour system. Women who can breed the ability to world-walk are in some ways regarded as property, which is offered as the reason Miriam was spirited away as a child and raised in "our" USA. These are the roots of the none-more-soap-opera complications around Miriam's love life and the alliances and betrayals involving her mother and her newly discovered uncle and grandmother.

There's some foggy material about a "lost clan" of world-walkers, which leads Miriam to stumble into a second parallel version of North America. This Victorian steampunk setting sets Miriam free of her cod-medieval chains of servitude, and she starts to build a life as a progressive modern business-woman.

Ultimately the "real" world is the setting everyone wants to escape to, mainly because it's the one that lets the writer indulge a Matrix-style fetish for vast amounts of shiny guns and reuse his Laundry series signature of cod-military CODENAMES IN CAPS.

It's no secret that the series was a deliberate grab at the lucrative disposable-epic-fantasy market. In this first book everything is about discovery so the plot being all over the place doesn't completely spoil the fun. Sadly with with each book the written-for-hire quality and the writer's detachment from the sub-genre becomes more obvious, and the original UK publisher's reasons for dropping the original six-book version half way through become clearer.

There's something of a myth that this is a restored original vision of a trilogy cut up into six parts by Charles Stross's US publisher. In fact each volume of the three book version reads exactly like a fix-up of its original two parts.

As I've said before:

Pfffffff ...
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on 29 May 2013
A really entertaining read. Grabbed you from the start and continued wringing surprises, excitement, shock horror and belief from you throughout.

I didn't want it to end and looked forward to the next omnibus.
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on 18 July 2013
I had heard the name Charles Stross, but hadn't read any of his work. I knew he'd won a couple of Hugo Awards so when this came up in an Amazon Daily Deal - great idea Amazon by the way; let's have more SF in the deals! - I thought I'd give it a punt. And what a good buy this was!

Miriam Beckstein has a pretty ordinary, dull life, until her (presumed) foster mother gives her a box containing an amulet, and Miriam finds herself in an alternate universe... So far, so predictable; plenty of novels have explored this sort of fiction. What makes this stand out is that rather than a straightforward fantasy, this shows in great detail the socio-economic differences between the two (and later three) worlds. Stross makes us believe the new world(s) and the challenges Miriam faces to survive and thrive. Lots of action, but plenty of thoughtful analysis of the economies, and how Miriam takes advantage of the differing levels of technological development. I'll certainly be buying the other two omnibuses (omnibi??) and anything else this excellent author has written. Highly recommended.
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on 22 April 2014
Good concepts, possible mistakes avoided. It's obvious the author not only writes but can think as well. Reminded me of a good TV show. Highly recommended for those who liked the background ideas of Sliders, etc. The only difference is that it doesn't let you down with the storyline :)
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on 30 January 2014
This book is unbelievable, as are the 'rave' reviews. Whereas I think it could be argued that all stories are contrived, this one is done so in such as way as to be transparent and quite painful in it's exposés, pretty much throughout. There is no real suspense, and the editing leaves a lot to be desired: in several places it is obvious where txt has been deleted and the reader is left wondering in what context the dialogue is being submitted. The principal relationship, established pretty much immediately between two main characters is naive and unbelievable. The reader (well, me anyway) spent the whole book *not* actually believing it, which defeats the object of all the other poor efforts at subterfuge. Reasonably well written, poorly edited, not even vaguely a novel idea.
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on 13 September 2015
I have read most of Charles Stross work, my favourite being his Laundry Series. This consolidated version of the Merchant Princes does not disappoint. I like the use of parallel worlds to bring in characters medieval in character but functioning within a modern society albeit at times ruthless and barbaric. Even better it later brings in a world (spoiler be warned) reminiscent of a Steampunk novel. I really hope that world is expanded on in the next novel. Its easy to read, well paced and has superbly developed characters.
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on 13 June 2013
I came at this from being a fan of the Laundry files. Wish I'd found it sooner!

It's awesome. Love the way that Miriam, the principle character, looks at the world. Also her reaction to the strange and new is a lot more 'realistic' than many books I've read. I could rant on for quite a while, but it would be riddled with spoilers.

This book is engrossing and I really can't put it down. Go read it!

Thanks Mr Stross!
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