cover image Dark State

Dark State

Charles Stross. Tor, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3757-3

In Stross’s middling second Empire Games novel (after Empire Games), plots don’t just thicken; they proliferate and snarl in each other like weeds. In the year 2020 in Timeline Two, a world somewhat like ours, U.S. spies have recruited Rita Douglas, the estranged daughter of intertemporal spy extraordinaire Miriam Burgeson. Having failed to infiltrate Timeline Three’s North American Commonwealth (which only freed itself from the British monarchy in 2003), Rita returns to the unfriendly embrace of her handlers with a message from Miriam: open diplomatic relations between the timelines, or face another war. But the Commonwealth has its own problems—the head of its government is terminally ill, and his death will trigger the country’s first succession crisis. Hoping to solidify their position against other factions, the worldwalkers who move between timelines hope to pull off a diplomatic coup: helping Princess Elizabeth Hanover defect from Britain to the Commonwealth. When these plans go awry, Rita is pulled even deeper into the machinations of two timelines, trying to prevent a war that threatens to consume them all. Stross writes with passion and ease about both human and technological spycraft, and his characters remain intriguing and sympathetic. The story, however, feels like a placeholder for the next book, and finishes with an unsatisfying cliff-hanger. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Associates. (Jan.)