Publication Date: March 3, 2015
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.
File Under: Urban Fantasy
About the Author
FERRETT STEINMETZ is a graduate of both the Clarion Writers' Workshop and Viable Paradise, and has been nominated for the Nebula Award, for which he remains stoked. Ferrett has a moderately popular blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, wherein he talks about bad puns, relationships, politics, videogames, and more bad puns. Noted online personality, whose letter to his daughter 'I Hope You Have Awesome Sex' went viral. He's written four computer books, including the still-popular-after-two-years Wicked Cool PHP. He lives in Cleveland with his wife, who he couldn't imagine living without.
[Note: I received an advanced reader's copy of this title from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.]
Flex is a novel that grabbed me right off the bat, from its evocative cover art to the intense magic-as-a-drug fueled prologue, and sucked me in with Paul's struggles to cope with and help his tragically burned daughter.
Ferrett Steinmetz is able to quickly construct a familiar world, one where not only is magic real and rightfully dangerous, but which can also be synthesized into a drug called Flex. Needless to say, magic is illegal, with its wielders forced into military service. In the book's opening pages, Paul learns that he is gifted with 'mancy, but that it's use has very real, very serious repercussions. Magic flexes the universe, but that's not something to simply toy around with because the universe flexes back. And while magic may break the physics that shape our world, it remains true that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And karma, well, she's a bitch.
After learning that a terrorist named Anathema, who uses the Flex blowback to target her victims, is responsible for nearly killing his daughter, and that the insurance company, who Paul works for, is refusing to cover her treatments, Paul goes into the Flex making business. This is where Steinmetz earns his Breaking Bad comparison, and it's well-earned. If you're going to put a magical spin on recent pop culture phenomena, you could do a lot worse than look to that drug dealing drama for inspiration.
One thing that I really appreciated in this title, though, is just how mundane it can be, and that really helps to ground the story. For instance, although magic is dangerous, it's not exactly sexy. Paul's powers stem from his love of bureaucracy and filing paperwork, and he's able to tap into top-secret CIA documents and police reports by magically filing requisition forms. His partner-in-crime, Valentine, is a gamemancer - she's a video game addict, and her love of Wii and 3DS fuels her magical abilities, along with some healthy inspiration from the Metal Gear Solid series.
It helps, too, that Steinmetz casts his characters are real people, first and foremost. These aren't part-time models who strut around on the catwalk and then fight crime at night. Paul's a paper-pusher for an insurance company. An ex-cop, he lost a foot in the line of duty and has a robotic prosthetic that can be a bit ungainly. Valentine is a wonderfully natural heroine, a bit chubby, a bit geeky, a bit sarcastic, and she adopts Paul's mission as her own out of sincere compassion. They make for a dynamic team, and their relationship shows wonderful growth.
I have to give Steinmetz a lot of credit for inserting as much realism and humanity into the story as he does, and this is a large part of the reason for why the book works as well as it does. It's clear that a lot of effort went into making the fantastic as relatable as possible, and there's a terrific amount of world building constructed around the disruption that magic, and its rules, brings to the table. Flex was an absolute delight to read, and my only real lament is that I can't cast some bureaucromancy of my own to conjure up the sequel right friggin' now.