Miriam Beckstein is a reporter for a high-tech trade journal, but the scoop she thinks will make her career gets her fired—and puts her on the receiving end of death threats. When her adoptive mother gives Miriam a locket left to her by her birth mother, Miriam's life gets even stranger. She ends up on a parallel Earth, where knights on horseback are armed with machine guns and the nobility are as comfortable in Armani suits as court dress.

Miriam discovers her birth family is one of this strange place's ruling clans—a cross between the di Medicis and the Mafia, who've perfected a between-worlds smuggling operation. Miriam's reappearance makes her heir to a huge fortune, and an even bigger target than she was at home in Boston. Her investigative skills come in handy as she faces complicated family ties, forbidden loves and a tangle of schemes and lies.

Some of Miriam's activities may have readers shaking their heads, but Stross does an excellent job of creating a believable and sympathetic female lead as impulsive as she is intelligent. This witty dark fantasy is far from Stross' usual space opera fare, but it's just as entertaining. With black humor and edge-of-your-seat action, it's the beginning of what looks to be a must-read fantasy series. (Dec., 304 pp., $24.95)
Reviewed by: 
Jen Talley Exum