Bloodline Feud by Charles Stross [Book Review]
Bloodline Feud is a reworking of the first two books in the Merchant Princes series. Charlie Stross explained why he’d rewritten them on his blog. Basically he’d written them this way and was asked by the publisher to split them into smaller books because the fantasy doorstop wasn’t in fashion.
The Bloodline Feud
I’d already read the entire series so I was wary of buying the Bloodline Feud. The only reason I did was because it was on special offer from Amazon for 99p. At that price almost anything is worth trying. Bloodline Feud is mostly the same story, but it is better than I remember either of the two books being. Also the combining them into one volume works very well. The story has a better pace and feels like a single story and not two smashed together.
That said, these aren’t pure fantasy books. They’re a modern thriller with a fantasy element. The premise is that parallel worlds exist. A recessive gene allows those with two copies to walk between worlds. Set around 2002, when the books were first published, they take a female business journalist and give her access to a parallel world.
Miriam is a classic unreliable narrator, almost the entire story is told from her point of view. There are other points of view so that the reader knows the bigger picture, but these form interludes to foreshadow later things or to explain other sides.
The Bloodline Feud of the title is related to the world walking ability. The family having realised how it works tries to keep control over itself. However, power struggles caused an internecine war. Miriam brings that back when she world walks, she’s the surviving daughter of a marriage intended to stop the war. Her parents were ambushed and she was taken to the US by her world walking mother. Adopted as a child she knows nothing of her heritage.
Miriam is given a locket, which has the world walking sigil. This leads to her switching worlds and being noticed by her estranged family, the Clan. Her return triggers the Bloodline Feud again. There are assassination attempts on Miriam. She then goes underground as an investigative journalist to uncover the background to the Bloodline Feud. She discovers a third world.
Worth a note on the worlds. We start in the modern US about 2002. This is the most advanced technologically of the three. Miriam then visits the home world of the walkers. This is topographically identical, but much more sparsely populated. It appears to have been settled by vikings and history diverged hundreds of years before. This world is feudal and has a c16 level of technology, apart from what the clan has brought over.
The feudal nature of this world limits the viewpoint and nature of clan operations. They are intrinsically conservative. This makes them less interested in social and economic development than in trade. They use their ability to move information rapidly between places in their world. In the other direction they use their wealth and power to move drugs.
The Clan are largely ignorant of world three. Miriam stumbles into it when tracking the Bloodline Feud. Its history diverged from the modern US about 1745. The Hanoverian Kings ended up ruling the American colonies after a successful Jacobite rebellion backed by a full scale French invasion. This world is around late 19th or very early 20th century in terms of technology. It’s also a police state.
Overall it is a very good take on parallel worlds with some really good female characters. Worth a read.