Inter-dimensional Spy Games: Dark State by Charles Stross

Last January’s Empire Games kicked off a new, standalone chapter in Charles Stross’s Merchant Princes continuity: a science fictional thriller involving panopticon societies, multiple timelines, a cross-timeline Cold War and nuclear-armed standoff, political crises, and family secrets. It packed a lot into a relatively slender volume. As its sequel—and the middle book of a trilogy—Dark State has a great deal to live up to, and even more work to do.

It succeeds admirably.

In Empire Games, Stross created an intricate and precisely paced thriller, with multiple plotlines and multiple important characters. The challenge of a trilogy’s middle book is always to advance the developments and arc set up in the first book while still being a satisfying novel in its own right; to set up (without overshadowing) the concluding volume; and to do all this without letting its pacing drag. Dark State is, if anything, ...