The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust and Skyler White
Posted March 18, 2017on:
published January 2017
where I got it: purchased new
I went into this book thinking “Yes! More Ren and Phil!!”. Alas, that was not to be the case, as on page one, Phil gets shot and is down for the count for a little while. No adorableness between Ren and Phil? What was I going to do?
Enjoy the hell out of everyone else getting the spotlight, that’s what.
Ren, Phil, you two know I love you, right? Because I totally do. But I am pleased as punch that Oskar and Irina (and Kate!!) get to be the stars of the show for once.
Wait, wait wait a minute. If you have not read The Incrementalists, full stop, go and read it RIGHT NOW. firstly, because that novel is gorgeously awesome, and secondly because this review will make no sense at all and also will spoil tons of good stuff.
Me telling you that Phil, who is now Chuck, gets shot at the beginning of this new novel doesn’t spoil anything for you, and if you’ve read The Incrementalists you’ll know it doesn’t really spoil too much for Phil either. Ren knows she’ll find him again, but in the meantime she’s inconsolable yet still attempting to meddle. As Incrementalists do when they are facing a crisis (because death, although annoying and impermanent for them, is still a crisis!), everyone comes together. There will be arguing, shouting, meddling, gardening, incredible meals, probably some flirting, and does anyone but Irina ever remember to go to the grocery store?
One of the many things I loved about The Skill of our Hands was how the story is presented. That sounds so simple, I know, but hear me out. This is Oskar’s novel, and as he observes Ren, Irina, and everyone else involved with planning what to do now, Oskar interrupts the narrative whenever he damn pleases to make sure you’re aware of his opinion, or aware that he agrees with someone, or aware that he is so deeply sorry that he didn’t trust someone or didn’t believe them. There’s a much bigger picture here that he needs you to see, even if he can’t point to it directly. You’d think his comments might be interruptive, but they totally aren’t. It works perfectly, and it gives the reader this really intimate relationship with Oskar. If I ever have a crisis, I want to have an Oskar on speed dial. Alongside everything that’s going on, Phil’s memories are being explored, specifically his memories of being in Kansas in the mid 1850’s. This book has an earworm you’re going to love.
Speaking of Oskar and Irina, the next thing I loved about The Skill of Our Hands is the intensity and depth of the characters. Ren and Phil sort of take a back seat in this novel, and just about everyone else we meet has enough character-meat and plot-meat on them to carry their own novel in any direction the authors might choose. Kate and her family? They totally need their own novel because I want to know about her Allen’s, about how she joined the Incrementalists and built her garden, and if it was awkward when her personality became dominant. Jane and Sam, they can also carry their own novel, even though they aren’t quite part of the private club. Also? The sexual tension between Oskar and Irina is insanely, deliciously, intensely hot.
Yes, The Skill of Our Hands is a direct sequel to The Incrementalists, but in no way shape or form is this more of the same. I’ve been running into that a lot lately, where I read the second book in a series, and it’s completely different in tone and theme than the first book and I’m not sure how to feel about that. Did I read a sequel hoping for more of the same? The Incrementalists is about Ren joining up with the group and fully understanding what she’s gotten herself into, and The Skill of our Hands is about how (and why) the sausage is made. What the two books do have in common is the Incrementalists learning new things about their abilities. It’s not like they came with an instruction manual, you know.
The story is about getting Phil back, you say? Sort of. This novel is about something much bigger than getting your soulmate back. It’s about having power to do the right thing, it’s about trusting people, it’s about wanting to make the world to be just a little bit better, even if you have no idea who the Incrementalists are or how to find one.
You’ll notice I didn’t tag this review with either the Science Fiction or the Fantasy tag. Because I have no idea what genre this novel is. All I know is that I can’t wait for the next Incrementalists novel to come out!