The Skill of Our Hands – Steven Brust & Skyler White

About the Book

The Incrementalists are a secret society of two hundred people; an unbroken lineage reaching back forty thousand years. They cheat death, share lives and memories, and communicate with one another across nations and time. They have an epic history, an almost magical memory, and a very modest mission: to make the world better, a little bit at a time.

Now Phil, the Incrementalist whose personality has stayed stable through more incarnations than anyone else’s, has been shot dead. They’ll bring him back—but first they need to know what happened. Their investigation will lead down unexpected paths in contemporary Arizona, and bring them up against corruption in high and low places alike. But the key may lay in one of Phil’s previous lives, in Kansas in 1859, and the fate of a man named John Brown.

352 pages (hardcover)
Published on January 24, 2017
Published by Tor
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

I really, really loved The Incrimentalists. I felt like Christmas had just visited my house again when the ARC for The Skill of our Hands arrived in the mail. I started reading it right away, and then life happened, and I’m just getting around to reviewing it now.

The Skill of Our Hands is really the second book in this series, and I do think it is absolutely essential to read the first book before you tackle this one. The way the story is told is different, and it did take me some time to get used to, but the general idea behind this whole thing is complex. The background will be essential to really understanding and enjoying this book.

The Skill of Our Hands is a different beast. The whole idea behind this secret society has been established. A little bit of time has gone by, and people have gone back to their own lives and various projects. This book toyed with some weighty issues that face our world today, but in a setting that is both thought provoking and easy to absorb. However, as with the previous book, this is a beast that has many layers, and those layers can be complex, convoluted, and confusing at times.

The entire idea of this society, this group of people who have learned how to cheat death by passing on their memories is an intriguing one. That right there, that entire sentence I just typed out is tested in some pretty dramatic ways in this book. Phil is shot dead. Before they bring him back to life, they have to figure out where he’s hidden some of his memories. In doing this, they discover that good ol’ Phil was working on something on the side, a sort of secret project of sorts.

What interests me is how this society of Incrimentalists is devoted toward doing good, toward bettering the world they are part of, but as we see in this book, the idea of “good” and “better” are nebulous at best. Brust and White really pull and push on those concepts, and on the varying points of view, people, and lifestyles that can impact perceptions. Nothing is simple, and that’s illustrated in pretty bold letters in this book.

Now, to be fair, I really enjoyed this book but it did take me some time to get into. It took me a while to feel the bones of the story, and then feel attached to them. This is a different sort of novel. Like I said, it has layers and layers, and there’s a lot of symbolism and meanings that are sort of danced around but not explicitly stated. It’s a book that you need patience and diligence to read. I don’t think that it’s quite up to the quality of its predecessor, but it is still a really strong installment in the series, and it’s incredibly well written. Honestly, it sort of boggles my mind how these two authors even attacked a project that felt this, well, vast in so many different respects.

This book isn’t for everyone, and it’s one of those books you need to be in the mood for. I read this book when I was in the mood to solve some huge puzzle. The writing is wonderful and the story can kind of be mind boggling at times. I did feel like occasionally it got lost within itself, but Brust and White always led me through those confusing points, like I trusted them to do. I enjoy the warped version of reality that they have crafted here, and I like book that toy with moral gray areas, mind sets, perspectives and mystery.

But layers, folks. This book has layers. You’ll need a scuba mask to dive through them all.

In the end, I found the deep dive to be completely worth my time.


3/5 stars


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