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The Skill of Our Hands: The Incrementalists #2    by Steven Brust & Skyler White order for
Skill of Our Hands
by Steven Brust
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2017 (2017)
Hardcover, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Skill of Our Hands follows The Incrementalists as the second in a series about a secret society, whose two hundred members carry unbroken memories that go back forty thousand years; and who meddle in world affairs to do good, while constantly disagreeing about the best way to achieve their goals.

In the first episode, Renee was recruited by Phil to replace the maverick Celeste who had inexplicably killed herself. But when Renee was given Celeste's stub, she didn't get all the memories - and Celeste had herself meddled with other Incrementalists, including Phil (who had loved her over many lifetimes). Though there was strong disagreement on how to proceed, Phil took a big chance for his growing love of Renee, which worked out well.

The Skill of Our Hands opens with a bang (several in fact) as Phil is shot and killed. Of course, Ren is devastated and others in the order rush to her side, each with a different candidate in mind to accept Phil's stub and bring him back. Adding to the confusion is the fact that no-one seems to know much about what Phil was working on, and why he was murdered.

But it turns out that Incrementalist Irina (once Celeste's ally) had her fingers in the pie all along and she keeps on meddling, desperately trying to set things right. Phil's stub rejects one candidate. And, when they do finally bring him back, he's missing recent memories - including that of Ren. It takes a significant sacrifice to make things right again.

Again, the storyline dragged a bit, with a strong emphasis on character interactions and relationships. But what I appreciated more than the plot itself were the problems the Incrementalists were trying to fix, to do with abuse of power by immigration and border patrol cops and by racist private militia - which all seems very timely today. The Skill of Our Hands is well worth reading. And, as Oskar urges at the end, 'Get involved. Make things better.'

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