First off, this is a great book if you’re into keeping neurotic lists as though you were going to make character trading cards. There’s a strong secret history concept to it, and the way the secret society works involves ‘switches’, sense-memory triggers that can be used to influence people. (My switches would probably be miso soup, lilacs, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, and big friendly dogs.) This group uses their influence to do good things, which is refreshing considering all the stories out there that use bad emotional triggers for dark reasons. Triggering bad memories isn’t necessarily stronger, but it is easier, and therefore seems a bit lazy.
There’s a lot of love-story going on, and I often denounce the fact that it seems like all the songs and stories are about love, but here I’m not complaining. Everyone involved in the central love affair has agency (even when they’ve been manipulated). There’s no love-interest-as-a-reward crap, and the payoff of the romance is strong and thoughtful. There’s a scene with coffee in bed that is the loveliest, realest moment between lovers I’ve read all year. The sweet fragility of what they’re feeling makes the reader yearn for a new romance, but the narrative still deals with the awkwardness and hard parts; their love is magical without being trite. Contrasting that NRE is a whole cast of well-drawn characters. One uses love as a tool instead of appreciating it, in a dark reflection of how the Incrementalists as a whole use emotions. Another is thwarted in love, and turns it to bitterness and then problem-solving momentum. Yet another character has this pleasant sort of French love for all his comrades.
The setting is Las Vegas (a town I thought I hated until I spent a fantastic weekend there) and there’s a love-letter-to-a-city aspect that works nicely. I like when a book really makes the setting an integral feature rather than just grudgingly sketching a place and then letting it fade to the background. When the plot, setting, and characters are skillfully interwoven, the story gets so much deeper in my head.
Anyway, I’m just in love with this book, and I think a lot of other people will be too.