Fix is the conclusion of the ‘Mancer trilogy by Ferrett Steinmetz. I’ve enjoyed the series so far, so the conclusion had rather large shoes to fill. Generally speaking, it manages to match, and in some cases exceed, my rather high expectations.
The world of Fix feels a little different to that of Flux, its immediate predecessor. Here we’re slowly seeing the rise of a legitimate front for the issue of rights for ‘Mancers. They’ve spun out of the rather more violent ‘Project Mayhem’ of the previous book, but Paul, his family, Robert, Valentine and the rest of the gang seem to be trying to go legitimate. With the spectre of a broken Europe, torn apart by magical breaches, ahead of them, the US public are sceptical of those using magic, especially when they’re not under government control. But they’re also increasingly willing to believe that those people are deserving of rights and protections.
Europe looms large through the text, a boogeyman of chaotic magic, where natural laws may suddenly cease to apply, often without any warning. Government ‘Unimancers’ struggle to contain the devastation, whilst acting as a hive-mind of ‘mancy. The Unimancers have been a faceless force until now, a single-minded horde driven to destroy our protagonists at the behest of a government terrified by uncontrolled ‘mancy. Now they’re still a bit scary, but we’re allowed to see a little further into their space, and look at what drives the Unimancers.
Steinmetz has provided a world where magic and mayhem go hand in hand. Where humanity appears to be on a precipice, a world where there are discussions about civil rights, about transhumanism, about government overreach going on forcefully, both in the fore and background of the narrative. It’s fascinating stuff, and it provides a compelling context for our heroes and their actions.
The central cast remains the same as the previous volume. We spend some quality time with Paul here, the Bureaumancer who can use paperwork to change the nature of reality. As the narrative begins, he’s struggling to provide a normal-seeming life for his family – his daughter is the world’s youngest ‘mancer, and all of them are on the run from a government which hasn’t exactly hesitated to use lethal force. In hiding, trying to create average lives for themselves, there’s the scent of a storm in the air. The author catches the ionised tang of paranoia and claustrophobia perfectly, as well as evoking perfectly the loneliness that being outside of society entails. Paul is on the outside, looking in to a world he may no longer be part of – and over the course of the text, he’s left questioning himself, his motivations, and whether what he’s attempting to achieve is actually right.
The focus of the narrative is really on family, especially the relationship between Paul and his daughter, Aliyah, whom we saw receiving a rather rough and ready education in ‘mancy in the preceding book. Aliyah is fragile in some ways, a person afraid of being who she is, because that person can be a spectacular danger to others. Still, over the course of the text, she is perhaps the one that undergoes the greatest change – looking for her identity, existing outside of her father’s influence and desire to protect her. Aliyah is always a pleasure to read, and now older than she was in the previous book, is grappling with how to live her own life, and decide who she is and who she wants to be. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her magical talents, this process of discovery is a bit more fraught than it might have been otherwise.
This is really a book about family, and what family is to people, and how the bonds of family are structured and stretched. That the family can throw fire, shatter security systems and occasionally play football (‘soccer’) is a bonus. There’s more from Valentine here too, as she tries to help Aalliyah with her self-identification, and struggles with her own relationship with Robert – who, no longer a ‘mancer, is having his own problems. There’s a complex family dynamic going on here, as well as questions of who is family, and how, and what ties them together. The interpersonal relations are done with care and attention, and are incredibly convincing – and emotionally fraught. I have to admit, this dynamic was my favourite part of the last text, and it’s great to see that it’s a core component of this one – and has remained as well done. The characters are flawed, sometimes broken people, but there’s a sense of affection and love permeating the pages as well, and making the whole feel quite painfully real.
The plot – well, no spoilers, I think, but let’s just say it makes the stakes of ‘Flux’ look small-time. There’s some absolutely top notch action scenes, which flow nicely and seem to end explosively – and an unflinching examination of the costs of those scenes as well. The book kicks off with a bang, and whilst there are some wonderfully contemplative moments throughout, there’s also a ratcheting tension which drives a need to find out exactly what happens next. The conclusion is explosive, but also carries a narrative veracity which comes from having characters you know and care about, as they put themselves in danger for a cause that they – and the reader – are invested in.
Is it worth reading? If you’ve not read the series before, this would probably work as a stand alone, but I’d start at the beginning . If you’re already a reader of the series, you owe it to yourself to pick up the conclusion. It’s thoroughly enjoyable.