The Revolution Business: Book Five of the Merchant Princes

The Revolution Business: Book Five of the Merchant Princes

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by Charles Stross
     
 

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Things are going badly for the Clan in this SF novel of the Merchant Princes, the immensely popular series by Charles Stross. Locked in a vicious civil war for control over the kingdom of Niejwein, their army is bottled up inside a fortress under siege in two parallel universes at once. Duke Angbard, the Clan's leader, has been laid low by a stroke: plotters are

Overview

Things are going badly for the Clan in this SF novel of the Merchant Princes, the immensely popular series by Charles Stross. Locked in a vicious civil war for control over the kingdom of Niejwein, their army is bottled up inside a fortress under siege in two parallel universes at once. Duke Angbard, the Clan's leader, has been laid low by a stroke: plotters are already conspiring in readiness for the deadly dance to come.

Miriam, rescued from a tight spot in New Britain, finds the hopes of the young, progressive faction focused on her. But do they want her as a leader or a figurehead? She soon finds herself thrown into a desperate struggle for power. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the Clan, researchers working for the US government have achieved a technological breakthrough.



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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429996815
Publisher:
Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date:
03/22/2010
Series:
Merchant Princes , #5
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
684,457
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Revolution Business

Book Five Of The Merchant Princes


By Charles Stross

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2009 Charles Stross
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9681-5


CHAPTER 1

Heir Apparent

* * *

I am not hearing this, Miriam Beckstein told herself. The temptation to giggle, to laugh it all off as a bizarre joke, was enormous. Pretend it isn't happening; yeah, right. Story of my life. She tightened her grip on the valise holding her notebook PC and its precious CDROMs. Except that for the past six months, the mad stuff had made a habit of punching her in the guts whenever she least expected it. "Run that by me again," she said.

"It's quite simple," said the hard-eyed young debutante with the machine pistol. "Your mother wants to use you to consolidate power." She kept her eyes focused on Miriam as she twisted the magazine free of the gun, worked a slide to eject a cartridge, and swapped another magazine into place. "The duke agrees with her. And we" — the eloquent roll of her shoulder took in their companions, a cohort of young and alarmingly heavily armed Clan world-walkers — "intend to make sure you're not just there for show."

They look like students, thought Miriam. Students outfitted by North Face for a weekend hike; accessories by Fabrique Nationale and Heckler & Koch. Of course they were nothing of the kind. Young aristocrats of the Clan nobility — born in the curious quasi-mediaeval kingdom of Gruinmarkt, and able to travel to other worlds at will — they might look like ordinary American undergrads, but the mindset behind those fresh young faces was very different.

"Oh, really?" she managed. The idea of her mother — and the duke — plotting to put her on the throne of the Gruinmarkt was pretty preposterous, on the face of it — but then, so were so many of the other intrigues the Clan seemed to generate. Then another thought struck her: You said "we," didn't you? So Brill had an agenda of her own, over and above her loyalty to the duke — or Miriam, for that matter? Time to probe. ...

"Was this" — she pointed at her belly, quiet anger in her voice — "part of their plan?"

"Milady" Brill — Lady Brilliana d'Ost, a mere twenty-something — furrowed her brow. "With all due respect, if you think that, you're paranoid. Do you really think the duke — or your mother — know you so poorly as to think you a suitable mother for the heir to the throne? Much less, under such durance? Henryk and your — his backer — were fools for thinking they could manipulate you that way, and now they are dead fools. The rest of us are just trying to make the best of a bad deal. And if you want to talk politics, would you mind leaving it until later? I've got a splitting headache and it's about to get worse."

Miriam winced. World-walking took it out of a member of the Clan's inner families, those with the ability: Doing it more than once in a day risked migraine-like symptoms and a blood pressure spike. There were other symptoms, too: pregnancy, she'd learned the hard way, made world-walking under your own power impossible. But they'd come here from New Britain, escaping after the abortive ambush at a provincial railway station in that world's version of California, immediately after picking her up.

One of the young men pacing the perimeter of the clearing raised a hand, twirled it in a warning circle. "One hour to go."

"Yah." Brill glanced round again. The forest clearing was peaceful, unoccupied but for Miriam, Brill, and her three young bloods, but she never stopped scanning.

"Are we in any immediate danger?" Miriam asked, shifting her balance on the fallen tree trunk.

"Probably not right now." Brill paused to continue her inspection. "The Kao's patrols don't usually sweep this far northeast. Better not linger, though. We'll be ready to move in another hour."

"The Kao?"

"The Favored of Heaven's border troops. Most of the local tribes give them a wide berth. We should, too." A warning look in her eyes gave Miriam a cold shiver; if Brill was scared of them, that was enough for her.

"What are you planning on doing once we cross over?"

"We've got a hotel suite in San Jose. I plan to get us over there, then make contact with the duke and ask for further instructions. I imagine he'll want us back on the east coast stat — we've got a biz-jet standing by. Otherwise, we'll do what Security tells us to do. Unless you have other plans?" Brill raised a carefully shaped eyebrow. Even though she'd started the day with a brisk firefight, then a forced crossing into wilderness, she'd taken pains with her makeup.

Miriam shrugged. "I thought I did." Her hands were restless; trying to keep them still, she thrust them deep in the pockets of her overly heavy coat. "The political situation in New Britain is going to hell in a hand basket. Erasmus was on his way to meet a big wheel in the, uh, resistance." In point of fact, the biggest wheel in the underground, returning from exile after a generation — to whom he had once been a personal assistant. "It's too hot for comfort. I was only going along because I couldn't think of anything else to do; when I fetched up in London all I had was the clothes on my back."

"Well, at least you got away from the mess at the Summer Palace with your skin intact," Brill observed. "And thank whatever gods you believe in for that."

She fell silent for a few minutes. But finally Miriam's curiosity got the better of her. "I can guess how you tracked me down," she said. "But what about Huw? And the other two? Who are they? You said something about a job I'd suggested, but I don't recall ... and they don't look like Uncle Angbard's little helpers to me."

"They're not." Brilliana's eyes narrowed. "I just called in help and head office sent them along. Hey! Sir Huw? Have you a minute?"

Huw nodded. "Bro, cover for me," he told the tall, heavily built guy with the semi-auto shotgun as he walked towards them. Huw was anything but husky: skinny and intense. "Has something come up?"

"Huw." Brill smiled, oddly cheerful. "We've got a couple of hours to kill. Why don't you tell her grace what you found?"

Her grace? But I'm not a duchess. Miriam blinked. Suddenly bits of the big picture were falling into place. Heir to the throne. "What you found, where?"

"We're calling it world four right now, but I think a better name for it would be Transition A–B," Huw said as he sat down at the far end of the fallen trunk. "It's where you go if you use the Hidden Family's knotwork as a focus in your world, uh, the United States." He grinned, twitchily. "Nobody was able to cross over in New England because, well, it's probably under an ice sheet — the weather there's definitely a lot colder than in any of the other time lines we know about."

Hang on, time lines — Miriam held up a hand. "What were you doing?"

"The duke tasked me with setting up a systematic exploration program," Huw explained. "So I started by taking the second known knotwork design and seeing where it'd take you if you used it in world two, in the USA, which the Hidden Family had no access to. The initial tests in Massachusetts and New York failed, so I guessed there might be a really large obstacle in the way. There's some kind of exclusion effect ... but anyway, we found a new world."

Miriam narrowly resisted the urge to grab him and start yelling questions. "Go on."

"World four is cold, as in, about ten degrees celsius below datum for the other worlds we've found. That's ice age cold. We didn't have time to do much exploring, but what we found — there were people there, once, but we didn't see any signs of current habitation. High tech, very high tech — perfect dentistry, gantries made out of titanium, and other stuff. We're still trying to figure out the other stuff, but it's a whole different ball game. The building we found looked like it had been struck from above by some kind of directed energy weapon —"

"Some kind of —" Miriam stopped. On the opposite side of the clearing, the young blond woman who'd come with Huw was kneeling, her weapon trained on something invisible through the trees.

Brill was already moving. "Get ready to go."

"But it's too early," Miriam started.

"What's Elena spotted?" Huw rose to his feet. The big guy at the far side of the clearing — the one Huw had called "bro" — was crouching behind the blonde, his shotgun raised: A moment later she turned and scrambled towards them, staying low.

"Riders," she said quietly, addressing Brill. "At least three, maybe more. They're trying to stay quiet. Milady, we await your instructions."

"I think" — Brill's eyes hardened — "we'd better cross over. Right now. Huw, can you carry her grace?"

"I think so." Huw knelt down. "Miriam, if you could climb on my shoulders?"

Miriam swallowed. "Is this necessary? It's too early —"

Brill cut her off. "It is necessary to move as fast as possible, unless you want another shoot-out. I generally try to limit them to no more than one before lunch on any given day. Huw, get her across. We'll be along momentarily."

Miriam stood up, wrapped her arms around Huw's shoulders, and tried to haul her legs up. Huw rose into a half-crouch. She strained to clamp her knees around his waist. "Are you alright?" she asked anxiously.

"Just a second," he gasped. "Alright. Three. Two." Something flickered in the palm of his hand, just in the corner of her vision: a fiery knot that tried to turn her eyes and her stomach inside out. "One."

The world around them flickered and Huw collapsed under her, dry-retching. Miriam fell sideways, landing heavily on one hip.

They were in scrubland, and alone. Someone's untended back lot, by the look of it: a few stunted trees straggling across a nearby hillside like hairs across a balding man's pate, a fence meandering drunkenly to one side. A windowless barn that had clearly seen better days slumped nearby.

Miriam rose to her feet and dusted herself off. Her traveling clothes, unremarkable in New Britain, would look distinctly odd to American eyes: a dark woolen coat of unusual cut over the mutant offspring of a shalwar kameez. Along with her temporarily blond, permed hair it was a disguise that had outlived its usefulness. "Where are you parked?" she asked Huw as his retching subsided.

"Front of. Barn." He staggered to a crouch. "Need. Painkillers. ..."

Something moved in the corner of her sight. Miriam's head whipped round as she thrust a hand in her coat pocket, reaching for the small pistol Erasmus had given her before she recognized Elena. A few seconds later Huw's brother Hulius popped into view, followed almost immediately by Brilliana. "Come on, people!" Brill sounded more annoyed than nauseous. "Cover! Check!"

"Check," Huw echoed hollowly. "I think we're still alone."

"Check!" trilled Elena. "Did they see you, Yul? Ooh, you don't look so good!"

"Guuuh ... Check. I don't think so. Going. Be sick."

Brill clapped her hands. "Let's get going, people." She was almost tapping her feet with impatience. "We've got a safe house to go to. You can throw up all you like once we report in, but first we've got a job to do." She nodded at Miriam. "After you, milady."


In a soot-stained industrial city nestling in the Appalachians, beneath a sky stained amber by the fires of half a million coal-burning stoves, there was a noble house defended by the illusion of poverty.

The Lee family and their clients did not like to draw attention to themselves. The long habit of secrecy was deeply ingrained in their insular souls; they'd lived alone among enemies for almost ten generations, abandoned by the eastern Clan that had once — so they had thought until recently, so some still thought — cast them out and betrayed them. Here in the industrial heartland of Irongate there was little love for rich foreigners, much less wealthy Chinese merchants, at the best of times. And the times were anything but good: With the empire locked in a bewildering and expensive overseas war (to say nothing of multiple consecutive crop failures and a bare treasury, deflation, and high unemployment) the city was as inflammable as a powder keg.

Consequently, the Lees did not flaunt their wealth and power openly. Nor did their home resemble a palatial mansion. Rather, it resembled a tenement block fronted by the dusty window displays of failing shops (for only the pawnbroker's business remained good). Between two such shops there stood a blank-faced door, a row of bellpulls discreetly off to one side. It might have been a stairwell leading to the cramped flats of shopkeepers and factory foremen. But the reality was very different.

"Be seated, nephew," said the old man with the long, wispy beard. "And tell me what brings you here?"

James Lee bowed his head, concealing his unease for a few more moments. As was right, he went to his knees and then sat cross-legged before the low platform on which his great uncle, the eldest of days — and his companions, the eldest's younger sibling, Great-Uncle Huan, and his first wife — perched.

"The Clan has gone too far," he began, then paused.

"Tea for my favorite nephew," the eldest commented, and one of the servants who had been standing behind James bowed and slipped out through a side door. "You may continue."

James took a deep breath. "They resumed their scheme to capture the royal house. My understanding is that the chosen bride, the long-lost daughter of the western alliance, was not an enthusiastic participant: The architect of the marriage, her grandmother, allied with the conservative faction at court to coerce her."

He paused for a moment as the servant, returning, placed a tray bearing a steaming cup before him. "I considered the merits of direct action, but concluded the cost would outweigh any benefit. It would be interpreted as base treachery, and I did not feel able to take such measures without your approval."

"Just so." His great-uncle nodded. "What happened next?"

James chose his next words very carefully, aware of the tension in the room: There was no whispering in corners, and none of the usual cross-play between the ancients that was normal when the eldest held court. "The baroness and her coconspirators made a fundamental error of judgment when they arranged the betrothal of the heir Miriam to the youngest son of the King. They failed to see how this would be received by his elder brother. Prince Egon is not of the blood and therefore they ignored him; Creon, though damaged, was thought by them to be an occulted carrier" — one who carried the recessive gene for the world-walking ability, but was not able himself to world-walk — "and so they planned to breed from him a king who would be one of their own. Egon took as dim a view of this marriage as you would expect, and the result was bound to be messy. Although I did not realize how drastically he would react at the time."

He reached out and picked up the cup of tea, then took a sip before continuing.

"I intervened at the betrothal by presenting the eastern heir — Helge, as they call her, Miriam, in her own tongue — with a locket containing our house sigil. She had made it clear that she felt no filial piety, and wished to escape. I therefore concluded that there was no reason to kill her if it was her heart's desire to do what we wanted: I merely gave her the means. I confess that I did not anticipate Egon's attempt to massacre everybody at the ceremony — but by now either she's dead or in exile, so our goal is achieved without her blood on our hands."

"About the massacre." Great-Uncle Huan leaned forward. "You were present, were you not?"

James nodded.

"How did you escape?"

Another sip of tea: "The situation was confused. When Egon's men detonated a petard beneath the palace and then attacked, the royal life guards fought back. While this was going on, those of the Clan's leaders who were present made themselves scarce. They left their dead behind. I hid under a table until I could get out, using my spare sigil." With one hand, James reached into the sleeve of his robe. Now or never. He pulled out a small gilded locket on a fine chain. "Before I left, I removed this from the body of a dead baron. It's the authentic sigil of the eastern Clan. I have tested it myself." He laid it on the dais before the eldest. "I brought it here directly."

He sat back to wait, straining to reveal no sign of his inner tension. It's like trying not to think of invisible elephants, Helge's mother Patricia had told him with a twinkle in her eyes. All you have to do is learn to ignore the elephant in the room. Which was perfectly true, but when the elephant in question was the huge lie you'd just told the patriarch of your family, that was easier said than done. The background was true enough, if one chose to overlook some judicious omissions. But his escape — that was another matter. Yes, he'd hidden under a table, shivering and concussed. But it had been one of the eastern Clan's soldiers who'd carried him across to that strange doppelganger city of New York, and it had been a very much alive Lady Olga Thorold who had gifted him with the locket, in return for certain undertakings. Because, when you got down to it, sometimes treachery was a two-way street.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Revolution Business by Charles Stross. Copyright © 2009 Charles Stross. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Charles Stross is the author of the bestselling Merchant Princes series, the Laundry series, and several stand-alone novels including Glasshouse, Accelerando, and Saturn's Children. Born in Leeds, England, in 1964, Stross studied in London and Bradford, earning degrees in pharmacy and computer science. Over the next decade and a half he worked as a pharmacist, a technical writer, a software engineer, and eventually as a prolific journalist covering the IT industry. His short fiction began attracting wide attention in the late 1990s; his first novel, Singularity Sky, appeared in 2003. He has subsequently won the Hugo Award twice. He lives with his wife in Edinburgh, Scotland, in a flat that is slightly older than the state of Texas.


Charles Stross is the author of the bestselling Merchant Princes series, the Laundry series, and several stand-alone novels including Glasshouse, Accelerando, and Saturn's Children. Born in Leeds, England, in 1964, Stross studied in London and Bradford, earning degrees in pharmacy and computer science. Over the next decade and a half he worked as a pharmacist, a technical writer, a software engineer, and eventually as a prolific journalist covering the IT industry. His short fiction began attracting wide attention in the late 1990s; his first novel, Singularity Sky, appeared in 2003. He has subsequently won the Hugo Award twice. He lives with his wife in Edinburgh, Scotland, in a flat that is slightly older than the state of Texas.

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The Revolution Business (Merchant Princes Series #5) 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
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Jvstin More than 1 year ago
The Merchant Prince series, about Miriam Beckstein, is the series that got me into the works of Charles Stross. The Revolution Business is the fifth in this series. It follows off of the explosive ending to the fourth novel, where the machinations of several parties, ranging from the Clan to the U.S. Government, to the political enemies of the Clan in the Gruinmarkt, all fall against each other, inadvertently messing up each other. Even more important is Miriam, our central character. In the novel, she quickly finds herself thrust into politics of the Family in a way that she could not imagine even in previous novels. Her previous efforts are nothing compared to the cut and thrust of politics now, in the wake of the deadly politics in the Gruinmarkt. And then there is the technological breakthrough of the US Government in terms of worldwalking, and the Clan's very personal approach to their feud with the US Government... About the only fault I have in the novel is that we don't get enough of the third world, the New Britain world. It suffers a bit in comparison to events in our world and the Gruinmarkt. With that aside, though, this novel continues to build on the previous four novels of the series. Stross has managed this series, its worlds and assumptions, with enviable and undeniable skill. His skill in developing believable and complex characters, having them grow and change (and in some instances, kill them off) is admirable. There is one more novel planned in the sequence, and Stross ends this book with an explosive cliffhanger that will make you want to read the sixth book all the more. I know that I certainly do!
OberstB More than 1 year ago
I've read the other four books in this series and generally enjoyed them, although I felt the last two, especially The Merchant's War, went off in too many directions at once. Unfortunately, The Revolution Business continues that regrettable trend by becoming even more convoluted. Most of the characters, even Miriam (the protagonist) to some extent, appear as little more than snippets and the tale jumps around so much that it's very difficult to keep track of where you are in the story line. Additionally, certain plot lines simply end in medias res. We started this one somewhat after the coup of the usurper king and all of a sudden we find that his army is obliterated in about two seconds. It's almost as if Stross couldn't figure out where it was going, or decided it was now a distraction, ended it and said to himself, "I guess that solved that problem; let's now focus on something else." The other annoying thing is Stross' constant allusion to the (obviously disliked by him) American president and vice president. His barely-veiled comparisons to Dick Cheney and George Bush detract from what would otherwise be an interesting exposition of the dynamic of a government faced with something it mistrusts and fears mostly because it neither understands nor controls it. To me it was a distraction and I kept mumbling things like, "Give it a break," "For god's sake, they're not even in office any more," and "Enough with the personal opinions already." What started out as a really creative concept with some potentially very interesting characters is not living up to its potential. While I wish him well, Stross needs to tighten things up, regain his focus and show us more of what we saw in the first couple of volumes. For $24.95 list that's the least one should expect.
harstan More than 1 year ago
The Clan Corporate believes they are invincible in spite of growing evidence that rebel activity from within their feudal system is growing rapidly. They base their logic on their magical ability to cross into parallel worlds like that of an advanced earth; as with the internal threat, the Clan fails to understand that the scientific based world knows of their cross dimensional ventures and have labeled the Clan a terrorist group by the USA. --------------- At the same time the Clan fails to read the facts, Boston reporter Miriam Beckstein has been freed from jail, but is pregnant and remains at the crosshairs of political rivals on two worlds who either want her dead or incarcerated. She becomes front and center on the American terrorist list when apparently world crossers steal nuclear weapons from the United States at the same time American engineering and science is close to finding a way to cross over to the Clan dominated world.------------- The latest Merchant Princes fantasy-science fiction tale(see THE MERCHANTS' WAR) is exciting and action-packed as political intrigue on two worlds makes for an interesting read filled with twists and betrayals. Miriam is terrific as she goes from the frying pan to the nuclear fire while somewhat serving as the closest character to a lead protagonist; with people moving in and people moving out, the temptation is to assume no star exists with the story line to some extent overwhelmed by the masses. Still this is an entertaining entry that sets the table for what appears to be coming: when worlds collide.--------- Harriet Klausner