If you threw various fictional ingredients I enjoy into a blender, the result might be Wayne Santos’ debut The Chimera Code (2020), an entertaining science fantasy mash-up shot through with all manner of genre geekery. The novel is set in a complex future transformed and reshaped by magic, which has caused a paradigm shift in the global economy. One of magic’s most accomplished practitioners is Cloke, a powerful “combat mage” who plies her trade under the auspices of General Information Systems (think Google on steroids). Cloke runs point on a chimera unit: a three-person outfit that combines magic, conventional warfare, and hacking to carry out mercenary operations. Cloke’s hacker has died, so when she’s recruited to execute a complicated, three-pronged op, she and her cyborg partner Marcus have to recruit a new hacker: Zee, a brilliant nonbinary computer genius with a mysterious past.
The Chimera Code is infectiously inventive. Santos clearly had fun designing this world and its characters, and that creative passion shines through on every page. Like many novels of this type, alas, the trees obscure the woods from time to time; it’s easy to lose sight of the broader stakes driving things when the focus is so tight on the world-building nitty-gritty and—perhaps more glaringly—the banter of the ultra-competent (perhaps too much so?) characters. That said, they’re really fun characters, and Santos does fine work building their rapport, all against a vivid backdrop of futuristic information tech and eye-popping superheroism. The big-picture through-line of its plot too often gets lost in the entertaining weeds, but on the whole I had a grand time rolling with this unique and colorful crew.