I had been looking forward to reading this for some time. Reviews that I had skimmed (and indeed hints dropped by the author) led me to understand that it borrows the feudal and feuding families who can walk between the worlds of Roger Zelazny's Amber series, a firm favourite of mine from an early age. But my anticipation was mixed with a little trepidation: even Zelazny was unable to really pull it off in the end - while the Amber books contain some of his most lyrical prose, the plot has holes you can drive an army of dark, clawed, fanged, furry man-like creatures through, and his own interest and energy had very obviously faded by the middle of the second series. And as for the Betancourt prequels - critical reaction has been pretty unanimous, so I don't think I'll bother.
Well, I think Charlie has pulled it off. He's taken Zelazny's idea and wondered what people with that ability would actually do with it in today's world; applied an economic model to it, if you like. Amber was always supposedly a great trading nexus (Corwin had written its anthem, the Ballad of the Water Crossers), but the evidence of this was pretty minimal - rather than wealth, its children seemed to be more attracted to power, and went off to find kingdoms and wars of their own. In the Stross version, there is a convincing business model using the fact that those with the gift can shift between our world and one where the Vikings settled North America and Europe never developed (and, we suspect, at least one other such parallel universe). Also in the Stross version, we have a plot that makes sense and is compelling reading; and some very interesting and complex characters. The Family Trade doesn't have the vivid imagery of some of his other work, but I sat up much later than I should have last night to finish it, and now can't wait for the sequel, The Hidden Family.
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