Book Review: Flex – by Ferrett Steinmetz

‘Mancer #1

Alt History, Urban Fantasy

Angry Robot; March 3, 2015

423 pages (PB)

4 / 5 ✪

When I see the word bureaucromancy, what comes to mind are singing muppets, dancing file folders, and papers flying around in a tornado. Somehow, when I try to picture this as a method used to fight evil, done by a skinny white guy with one foot—the whole thing falls apart. Actually, the entire book kept picturing Paul Tsabo as a Louis lookalike out of Left 4 Dead, made difficult by the author attempting to curtail my imagination with the constant reminders that Tsabo was white. Thrown in videogamemancy, crystallized magic that can be eaten, and, well, just all the bureaucracy… and here you have Flex.

Flex is an alternate history urban fantasy with an interesting (if bizarre) magic system. Its’ users—known as ‘Mancers—have the ability to affect time and space and the laws of physics with their magic, but these abilities are weak at best. Their real talent lies in the ability to concoct a solid-state, edible magic—called ‘Flex’—which endows the user with the ability to spit in the face of logic, reason, and physics and pretty much make their own destiny. Until it wears off and the Flux hits. And they typically die. Violently.

Former cop Paul Tsabo is an insurance adjustor working for Samaritan Mutual, specializing in any claim involving ‘mancy. Seeing as Samaritan doesn’t cover ‘mancy related cases, and since magic is a fickle beast in nature—Paul is in high demand. Not to mention, as a cop, Tsabo was responsible for many, many ‘Mancer arrests, until the time where he lost his foot and was forced to retire.

The scene opens with a murder. Anathema has begun her spree of terror—a killing via the Flux of her Flex—one death that will soon give way to many. And it starts with Paul Tsabo.

Though ‘Mancy kills the intro character and his date, it also saves Paul Tsabo and his daughter. And yet there’s an issue. Samaritan will (shockingly) not pay the reconstruction surgery for his daughter, Aliyah, who has been horribly burned. And so Paul is out to prove to them that he’s worth it: by hunting down and capturing Anathema. So begins the adventure that will lead Tsabo on a merry chase, kill hundreds of people, involve sex, more sex and so, so much violence.

It was a pretty good read—good plot, sub-standard setting and lore, interesting and unique characters—and one that I really don’t have too much issue with. My only real issue was with the sheer amount of sex and violence within. I was thoroughly unprepared for it. If you have any delicate sensibilities, be forewarned! Or maybe skip it. Otherwise… Flex is highly entertaining, if weird. I mean, it can be really, really strange sometimes. But it’s still good. I even took a two month break in the middle (there were a couple other books I really had to get through) and was able to pick back up as if nothing had happened.

I guess what I’m saying is it’s like a good beer: bold and refreshing, but not too complex.

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