Review: Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz
Series: 'Mancer #1
Also by this author: The Flux
Published by Angry Robot on March 3, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Urban
Source: NetGalley, Publisher
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.
Reading Flex is like ingesting a solid dose of some seriously bad-ass magic. The world comes to life, possibilities that you hadn’t thought of suddenly present themselves, you find yourself immersed in words that portray a familiar, but yet much more magical world. Flex is in some ways, reminiscent of Breaking Bad with a Ready Player One slant but with an added twist all it’s own.
Our protagonist, Paul, is an interesting character. He is a rule abiding, ex-cop who was injured in the line of duty against a ‘mancer. There are definite shades of grey morality as he is forced to make some very hard choices and re-evaluate his previously black and white view of the world.
I debated about how much plot detail to go into with this. There are some stories that I think are much better experienced straight from the author, and I suspect this is one of them. So, I am going to focus on the world and magic in this review and hope you get a good enough feel for what makes this story such a great read.
Imagine magic that that does not go to a predetermined set within the population, but a magic that stems from the pain of being isolated and the obsessions that people take on to cope with it. Magic that centers around whatever a person focuses on most to ground themselves, magic that comes from that one thing they have found to immerse themselves in to find some level of joy or sanity in their otherwise lonely or painful life. It creates a fascinating world where magic can stem from anything, and each users abilities and limitations are determined by what brings them magic.
These individuals that manifest these powers are called ‘mancers. The first part of it is determined by their unique ability (obsession). There are videogamemancers, deathmetalmancers, crazy cat ladies can become catmancers (or something like that). You get the idea. A videogamemancer’s capabilities must follow the rules from a video game. The only catch is that there are two sides to the magic. The flex (the good stuff you want to happen) and the flux (the bad stuff that is the price of the flex). So, you can’t just magic yourself something great, like winning the lottery, without something horrible happening (like getting run over by a bus) to balance it out. Karma is a bitch, and so is Flux.
The Flux has put people on high alert to fear all ‘mancers. When they are found, they are sent to be Refactored, where they are pretty much brainwashed to operate within a hive mind of other ‘mancers. They work for the government, and are really just shells of their old selves. They seem like brainwashed zombies, just taking orders.
It makes you wonder why anyone would want to do it, but greed and lack of foresight often wins out in life, this world is no different. But then there is motivation that can sometimes make you take the risk of flux, a motivation that is not at all selfish but comes from a need to help, like the love a parent has for a child that is in dire need of medical help. It’s hard to imagine someone with the ability not trying to help (and just cross your fingers that the Flux doesn’t come back and bite you in the ass, undo all the good, plus).
Now, to make it even more interesting, imagine being able to channel this magic into a material that can be sold, distributed and used like a drug. Anyone can experience the thrill of Flex. Seriously, some very cool things going on in Flex.
Just don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a shallow, just for thrills book. There is more there than just a surface level action story. The very nature of how abilities manifest, the fact that ‘mancers tend to be lonely people with some sort of problems in their life, the cost of the magic, the balance of flex and flux, and the stigma of being ‘mancer in a society where magic is feared and loathed, all of these things speak at a deeper level if the reader chooses to go there. Flex is raw magic with a deep soul. Highly recommend.