Rebecca's Reviews > The Hidden Family

The Hidden Family by Charles Stross
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Feb 04, 12

bookshelves: fantasy
Read in February, 2012

The first book in this series started as a refreshing take on the world-walking motif, in which instead of people just being kings in a magic world and then occasionally coming home, they exploit arbitrage opportunities, bringing goods back and forth. It was an interesting spin. Unfortunately, it ended abruptly, without making much sense or wrapping up much of anything. (There's one set of characters, apparently intended for a later part of the series, who show up, have a conversation, and never interact with the plot or main character at all.) I nearly hurled the book across the room in frustration at the end. It was basically half a book.

I was told that the reason it felt like half a book was because it, in fact, was half a book--that the publisher had thought the original was too long and split it somewhat arbitrarily in two. So I gave the second one a chance.

This one has an ending, I guess. It's a stupid, anticlimactic ending in which a major character dies pointlessly without having anywhere near the emotional impact on the main character as the death should. And most of the interesting plot threads are still left hanging, so apparently we're just meant to come back over and over without ever resolving anything.

Which is unfortunate, because nothing happens in this book. A friend told me she had given up after a few chapters, because the book consisted entirely of logistics. I finished it, and I can conclude that she was wiser--the book consists entirely of logistics.

Oh, Stross sets up a bunch of potentially interesting plot threads. There's the long-lost daughter and the parallel adoptions, a bunch of people pretending to be things they're not, a lover who may or may not be able to be trusted, shadowy puppet masters, an entire long-lost clan who may have started a civil war a generation ago. But it's pretty obvious, from the lack of movement or development, that he doesn't actually care about any of them.

No, what he wants to write is a thinly veiled comparison between 19th century mercantalism and the modern conception of capitalism. The first book is dedicated to using world-walking as a metaphor for the first. This second book is consumed with using world-walking as a metaphor for the second. So while we have no idea how Miriam handles the death of someone she allegedly cared about, we know in great detail how she launders funds to start up an intellectual property clearinghouse, including an examination of exactly what inventions might be best to import first to this random fictional world. (It's not like he's even playing around with what inventions might have changed history--he built the world, so it's no particular act of cleverness to declare that this esoteric form of brakes is perfect because they've invented the appropriate tires but not the appropriate brakes.)

I'm done. I've liked some of his Laundry Files work, but I'm certainly not reading any more of this series. I would not at all be surprised if the next book is a thinly-veiled indictment of communism, given how he's setting things up. And I've got better things to do with my time than read a treatise on why the current leading economic theory beat its predecessors, with a couple nonsensical action scenes thrown in at the end to pretend it's a story.
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