Praise For The Merchant Princes Series
—L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
“Quirky, original, and entertaining.
—Kevin J. Anderson,
“Stross not only creates an alternate world that is fascinating and original, he even does the unheard of, for a fantasist: His depiction of our world is deep and real. His characters behave in ways that make sense. They know all the things they should know, and don’t know the things they shouldn’t. The result is that we readers can trust this author completely, dive into this story and let it carry us wherever the current flows.
“Not to mention the fact that it’s simply a great adventure, full of danger, of plots within plots, of forbidden love, and political murder.”
—Orson Scott Card
The committee meeting was entering its third hour when the king sneezed, bringing matters to a head. His Excellency Sir Roderick was speaking at the time of the royal spasm. Standing at the far end of the table, before the red velvet curtains that sealed off the windows and the chill of the winter afternoon beyond, Sir Roderick leaned forward slightly, clutching his papers to his bony chest and wobbling back and forth as he recited. His colorless manners matched his startling lack of skin and hair pigmentation: He kept his eyes downcast as he regurgitated a seemingly endless stream of reports from the various heads of police, correspondents of intelligence, and freelance informers who kept his office abreast of news.
“I beg your pardon.” A valet flourished a clean linen handkerchief before the royal nose. John Frederick blinked, his expression pained. “Ah-
Sir Roderick paused, awaiting the royal nod. The air in the room was heavy with the smell of beeswax furniture polish, and a faint oily overlay from the quietly fizzing gas lamps. “Sire?”
“A moment.” John Frederick, by grace of God king-emperor of New Britain and ruler of the territories and dependencies thereof, took a fresh handkerchief and waved off his equerry while anxious faces watched him from all sides. He breathed deeply, clearly battling to control the itching in his sinuses. “Ah. Where were we? Sir Roderick, you have held the floor long enough—take a seat, we will return to you shortly. Lord Douglass, this matter of indiscipline among the masses troubles me. If the effects of the poor grain harvest last year are not mitigated in the summer, as your honorable colleague forecasts”—a nod at Lord Scotia, minister for rural affairs—“then there will be fertile soil for the ranters and ravers to till next autumn. Is there any risk of a
Lord Douglass ran a wrinkled hand across his thinning hair as he considered his reply. “As your majesty is doubtless aware—” He paused. “I had hoped to discuss this matter after hearing from Sir Roderick. If I may beg your indulgence?” At the royal nod, he leaned sideways. “Sir Roderick, may I ask you to rapidly summarize the domestic situation?”
“By your leave. Your majesty?” Sir Roderick cleared his throat, then addressed the room. “Your majesty, my right honorable friends, the domestic condition is currently under control, but there are an increasing number of reports of nonconformist ranters in the provinces. In the past month alone the royal police have apprehended no less than two cells of Levelers, and uncovered three illicit printers—one in Massachusetts, one in your majesty’s western New Provinces, and one in New London itself.” A whisper ran around the table: It was an open secret that the cellar press in the capital could print whatever they liked with only loose control, except for the most blatantly slanderous rumors and Leveler sedition. For there to be raids, the situation must be far worse than normal. “This ignores the usual rumbling in the colonies and dominions. Finally, police operations uncovered a plot to blow up the Western Summer Palace at Monterey—I would prefer not to discuss this in open cabinet until we have resolved the situation. Someone or something is stirring up Leveler activists, and there have been rumors of French livres greasing the wheels of treason. Certainly it takes money to run subversive presses or buy explosives, and it must be coming from somewhere.”
Sir Roderick sat down, and Lord Douglass rose. “Your majesty, I would say that if adventures are contemplated overseas, and if this should coincide with a rise in the price of bread, the introduction of new taxes and duties,
“Well, then.” The king frowned, his forehead wrinkling as if to withstand another fit of sneezing: “We shall have to see to such measures, shall we not?” He leaned forward in his chair. “But I want to hear more on this matter of where the homegrown thorns in our crown are obtaining their finances. It seems to me that if we can snip