2016’s Fix is the third and final (?) volume in Ferrett Steinmetz’ ‘Mancer series.
Paul Tsabo did his best to talk America into abandoning its draconian anti-’Mancer ways. Alas, Paul is a bureaucratomancer, not a oratoromancer, and his pleas fell on deaf ears. Persuasion having failed, Paul, his family, his friends and their allies dug in for a long campaign aimed at changing America’s mind.
What Paul’s efforts do succeed at is convincing SMASH (the organization charged with protecting America from the ‘Mancer menace) that their conventional methods for dealing with domestic threats isn’t going to work with Paul. SMASH is the sort of organization whose answer, when a hammer fails, is to get a much larger hammer.
A misguided attempt to provide Paul’s ‘Mancer daughter Aliyah with the social contact the thirteen-year-old craves leaves a town in ruins and paints a giant target on Paul. Worse, a magical calamity (of the sort all ‘mancy produces if you practice it long enough) leaves Paul comparatively defenceless and his organization in ruins. Despite this, Paul manages to stay out of SMASH’s grasp.
Aliyah is not so lucky.
Desperate to save his daughter before she is transformed to yet another brainwashed cell in the Unimancer hive-mind, just another faceless foot soldier in SMASH’s army, Paul declares war on SMASH. Even with his organization in ruins, Paul may be the second-greatest threat SMASH faces … well, after the entity on the other side of the holes in reality.
As Aliyah learns, Paul has been denied vital, need-to-know information. His methods make sense in the context he thinks he in. As matters actually stand, Paul is making a difficult situation much worse. In trying to rescue Aliyah, Paul may lose her forever and with her, the world.
I was genuinely surprised that Paul didn’t Kirk the US into reform. Usually, all it takes to convince a society to abandon prejudice is one really inspiring speech. Paul’s problem may be related to the fact ‘Mancers really are existential threats to America, that the nature of magic means that ‘Mancers generally have terrible judgment. The few who don’t still have the ‘Mancer bad luck that eventually dooms them all 1.
This is the novel that takes the series to the ruins of Europe. We get a good look at what happens when ‘Mancers run amok (although as Paul points out, they only ran amok at the orders of their superior officers during World War Two). Interestingly, while the parts of Europe we see are chaotic wastelands where natural law can change in the space of a human stride, Europeans have survived, even prevailed.
Poor Paul: not only is he making matters unimaginably worse because his premises are wrong (not entirely his fault: SMASH turns out to have been lying about something very important for reasons that made sense at the time) but his ultimate goal, keeping Aliyah safe under his watchful eyes, is doomed from the start. His strategy requires that Aliyah stay the child she is in his mind. Children grow up.
This seems to be the final book in a trilogy, which is a bit of a pity. The weakest element of this book was the Big Bad, which seemed to be pointlessly spiteful towards our universe for no particular reason. If SMASH could turn out to be more than the zombie army it seemed to be in earlier books, why not the Thing? But if there are no more books, we will never find out.
Fix is available here.
1: Which raises the question, how long has ‘Mancy been around? The state of Europe suggests “not very long.” In fact, given that the Great War didn’t end with ‘Mancers ripping holes in the universe, it may be that the rise of ‘mancy was post-Great War. That only raises the question of why ‘mancy arose when it did, which may be as simple as “that’s when the Thing on the Other Side of Reality started trying to get into our universe.”
[Editor: I am reminded of Tad Williams’ Dragonbone Chair series, in which it turns out that the McGuffin is not the thingie that will save the world; it will doom it. Mad scramble at the end to reverse strategy. ]