FLEX: Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.
FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.
PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form.
But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.
NOTE: This book was received as an eARC from Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
I’ve been a longtime reader of Ferrett Steinmetz online, and his short stories remain some of the works that have resonated with me the strongest (seriously, if you haven’t read Shoebox Heaven, you should. Bring tissues.). I was therefore extremely happy when Steinmetz announced the sale of Flex to Angry Robot, and happier still when I managed to snag an eARC.
This is the world Steinmetz gives us in Flex: people who become obsessed with things become ‘mancers, their obsessions strong enough to become magic that can bend the rules of physics. ‘Mancy comes with a price – every “flex” of reality creates “flux” as reality bends back. ‘Mancers in Europe have created enough Flux that they have literally broken reality; as a result, ‘mancers are seen as something that needs to be kept controlled.
This magic can also be distilled into a physical drug, known as Flex. Snort Flex, and luck will bend to your will. If a bullet is fired point blank at your head, the universe will find some way – even the one in a billion happenstance – that will make you not die.
Paul Tsabo is an ex-cop who lost his foot to the last ‘mancer he hunted. Paul Tsabo also loves order, is obsessed with the idea of finding the “Unified Universal Form” that will make bureaucracy simple. Paul Tsabo’s obsession is so great that it has made him a ‘mancer, a discovery that will change everything about his life, and about the life of his daughter, Aaliyah.
This world is amazing – just the idea that an obsession can bend reality enough to create magic is a brilliant one. We see all kinds of ‘mancies in this book – gamemancy, Paul’s bureaucromancy, musclemancy. The idea on its own brings something fresh to urban fantasy, and was enough on its own to draw me into the book.
Paul himself is also an interesting character. His relationship with his daughter is finely written, and I never wavered in the belief that he would do literally anything to save her life. I may have literally yelled at my Kindle at one point early in the book, just before I realised that something bad was going to happen, I already cared about Aaliyah so much as character from seeing her through her father’s eyes.
My only issues with this book are Valentine, the gamemancer who Paul joins forces with, and Anathema, the ‘mancer they hunt. Both characters felt a little thin to me. It’s clear the Steinmetz made an effort to develop Valentine, but she still came off a lot of the time like someone being drawn to fit a particular box in the story, and not a fully-developed character.
Despite these issues, I enjoyed this book a great deal. The world alone is fascinating – and I really hope that Steinmetz returns to it, because I really want to see just how broken Europe is, and I want to see how Aaliyah’s story develops. If you’ve burned out on a lot of urban fantasy, I can recommend picking this one up, as I believe Steinmetz brings something new and fresh to the genre.