Genre: Science Fiction Fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Date of Publication: September 24, 2013
Author Information: Steven Brust Website | Twitter Skyler White Website | Twitter
My copy of this book was an ARC I received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Tor Books and NetGalley for making that happen! My recent positive experiences with the Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust had made me curious about this novel, so I was looking forward to checking it out.
The concept behind The Incrementalists is a very interesting and original one, and it only gets wilder as you read more of the story. Phil and Celeste are part of a secret society of two hundred people with an unbroken lineage of memories reaching back to the dawn of humankind. Their ongoing mission: to make the world better a little bit at a time through a process called "meddling" or "meddlework", which they achieve through influencing others by nudging them gently towards a certain inclination.
With Celeste's recent death, Phil goes looking for a new recruit for her next reincarnation, which is how he meets up with Renee "Ren" in Las Vegas. The book is told in alternating parts by these two characters, though Celeste remains a prominent presence in their lives. Always an unstable personality in life, Celeste is no different even in death. Now not only has her meddlework jeopardized Ren's initiation, her plans also extend to affect her fellow Incrementalists, changing the rules and putting them all in danger.
The idea behind the Incrementalists' work was what initially attracted me to this story. Personally, I felt the hints of both sci-fi and fantasy in the way their meddling process operates, which makes me think this would be an excellent book for readers who love cross-genre speculative fiction. To influence people, the Incrementalists would gather a list "switches" which are essentially memory and sensory factors which would trigger a reaction from their individual target. The Incrementalists themselves experience a sort of memory and personality "immortality" for as long as their consciousness stays stable through the reincarnations. All their collective knowledge or history of the world is seeded to the memory "Garden", available for any Incrementalists to "graze" from. This concept feels almost magical to me in a way.
This would also be perfect for those looking for something more cerebral and abstract, as the book is also heavy on symbolism and metaphors and would be positively mind-bending for someone not expecting it. The story mostly focuses on the Incrementalists and their own inter-societal crisis that Celeste has wreaked, but I would have loved it even more if there had been more on their history, or if their mission goals of making the world "better" had been expanded upon.
I also enjoyed the writing style. Of the two authors, I'm not familiar with Skyler White, though after this book I may be open to checking out more of her writing. But from what I've read of Steven Brust's fantasy novels, this definitely has the distinct feel of his work. The storytelling is so fast-paced, the reader has to be quick on their feet to keep up and you can't zone out for a second lest you miss something. I like that the book isn't bogged down with superfluous details, and in fact starts off with very little information, so you have to trust to the fact that more will be explained as the story progresses.
Overall, a great read if you're looking for something a little fun, a little strange, and a little different!
3.5 of 5 stars