Retro Review: The Clan Corporate by Charles Stross

The Clan Corporate by Charles Stross
Genre: Modern/Portal Fantasy
Age category: Adult
Release Date: May 16th 2006

Editor’s Note: Due to a pretty drastic change in my schedule (most notably, taking on the role of homeschool teacher), I will not be able to post a review in early April as I usually do, but I do have an interview with an amazing author I’m looking forward to publishing mid-month. Keep reading awesome books and stay safe, everyone!

The Merchant Princes is a series about Miriam, a reporter and economist who discovers that when she views a specific knot-like pattern, she can jump to an alternate world. Only she and her family members have this ability to walk through worlds, and her long-lost relatives on the other side have set up an entire empire with it. Empires, of course, tend to have pretty rigid rules, and Miriam has no interest in following any of them.

This is the core conflict that drives the third book in this series. I devoured the first two books in The Merchant Princes series with gusto and was really looking forward to this one. Miriam thus far has been a fantastic heroine. She’s tough and analytical, she can see angles to things others can’t, yet she’s also sympathetic and relatable. (I could do without the romantic subplot, but eh, I can almost always do without romantic subplots.)

The cover of the third book reads, “Miriam Beckstein has gotten in touch with her roots and they have nearly strangled her.” Sadly, they nearly strangle the plot as well. The book opens with Miriam understandably frustrated. After independently establishing a new line of business for the clan, the higher-ups have seen fit to exclude her from it almost completely. Anyone with authority is clearly avoiding her, and those she called allies before are largely unwilling to assist her now. There is clearly a larger plot going on, and Miriam wants to get to the bottom of it. In a few cases, the narrative pulls away from Miriam to let the audience “listen in” on some of the plotting, which really pulls away from her agency. It feels like her even seemingly independent actions have all been carefully plotted out by others.

As earlier reviews have noted, Miriam does making some poor decisions in the latter half of the story. On one hand, I was excited when it happened. Miriam is done with waiting, and she’s taking action. On the other hand, a more rational Miriam probably would have found a better approach. One of the things I loved about the second book is how she thinks completely outside the box. The first book even has the characters essentially hyping up her big idea before she has it. A sort of, “Oh, wow, whatever we come up with had better be really amazing and unprecedented!” And Miriam delivers. It was a shame she couldn’t deliver that ingenuity again. It felt like every time Miriam was really backed into a corner, she could only resort to the most stereotypical of reactions–making a rash decision, bursting into tears, and/or resigning herself to wait for rescue. At one point, Miriam’s mother sympathizes with her frustration, but tells her there’s nothing she can do because this is how women are treated in this world. It’s a tirade of sorts, but it falls flat, because this is a fantasy world she’s going on about. It could be anything the author wants it to be. It felt like as a reader I was being told, “Look, seriously, don’t expect her to find an out, because there’s none written in there. Except for a potential rescuer she couldn’t know about and has no influence over.”

For all its flaws however, I still found the worldbuilding in this book fascinating, I enjoyed the occasional glimpses into our world and how events there fit in with everything. And I still like Miriam way too much from the first two books to let this turn me away from reading the fourth.

Rating: 3 out of 5 (with a 4 out of 5 and 5 out of 5 respectively for the previous two books.)

You can find The Clan Corporate on Goodreads

You can also buy The Clan Corporate: Book Three of the Merchant Princess or start the series with The Family Trade: A Fantasy Novel (Merchant Princes Book 1) on Amazon. (Affiliate link)

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