The second novel in a projected trilogy by Charles Stross, The Hidden Family picks up right where the first one ends, with Miriam fleeing an assassination attempt and an attempt to frame her in an attack on another member of The Clan. While she attempts to discover who most wants her dead, and who benefits most from her death, Miriam discovers that there is yet a third world, and that that world, with its own alternate history timeline, also contains world walkers. Someone, or several someones from both the alternate worlds really wants her dead. Fleeing the stronghold of the Family, Miriam brings twenty-first century economic theory to life as she sets up a business on the new world, and begins to import the most valuable and portable commodity of all — ideas. That means setting up a base in twenty first century Boston, and another in the new third world, because while the third world can be reached via this world, it can’t be reached via the second world.
Miriam forges relationships outside of genetic lines, the “family braids” that govern so much of Clan politics, and begins to realize that things, and people, aren’t always what they seem — this is only to be expected in a fictive universe that’s reminiscent of a combination of Zelazny’s Amber series, and The Godfather. But Stross does several things better than Zelazny did in Amber. First, Stross has female characters that are believable women, rather than bizarre Heinleinian like female animatronics. This is an author who has paid close attention to the way women think and talk. Secondly, Stross has a real talent for world-building; he’s thought about his alternate histories, and about the kinds of societies and personalities they’d produce. He’s also as twisty and clever in his machinations as the Clans themselves. And finally, Stross knows how to tell a story. This a fun book, an interesting book, and Stross has integrated the back story so thoroughly that The Hidden Family stands on its own — not at all common in the second volume of a trilogy.
I’m eagerly looking forward to the third novel, The Clan Corporate, due out in May of 2006. And, while I would like to have been able to read all three volumes as a single book, I am at least grateful that Tor has published the hardcovers on acid free paper, with quality design and typesetting. Based on comments in Stross’ blog, we can look forward to several more volumes in the series; the fourth is provisionally titled The Merchants’ War, and it appears to be the first in another trilogy.