Charles Stross’s Empire Games is a sweeping science-fiction/espionage novel spanning four timelines. It’s a direct sequel to his previous Merchant Princes series, which spanned six books. The main plot takes place in the year 2020 of Timeline Two, which is more or less our own history until 2003 when a nuclear weapon was detonated in the White House, killing the President of the United States. One of the main characters in the book, Miriam Burgeson, heads an espionage agency and is aware of the parallel timelines, one of which recruited her estranged daughter, Rita Douglas, to spy on the other timelines. Another character, Colonel Eric Flint, recruits people called world-walkers to travel between timelines, especially Timeline Three, where the United States, a nuclear superpower, is part of the New American Commonwealth, which is ruled by the French monarchy, which is also a nuclear superpower. The result is a Cold War-like standoff of epic proportions that will test each character’s loyalties.
I really liked the premise of Empire Games. The plot is extremely well-executed and complex. There are multiple twists and turns, and there’s never a dull moment. Character development is top-notch, and the reader sees each character’s motivations. The book moves at a fluid pace and ends with sort of a cliffhanger where the next book will pick up. I also liked the fact that Empire Games is a mixture of genres, with noticeable elements of political and espionage thrillers mixed with science fiction and alternate history. The author definitely knows how to hook the reader from the very first page and keep them engaged, asking questions, and wondering how our world really works all throughout the book.