Ferret SteinmetzSo first off the bat, this is a sequel to Flex by the same author. I have not read Flex, but that didn't hinder my reading of The Flux at all. I do have the feeling that The Flux if read first spoils Flex, but it is in no way dependent on reading the prior book. The downside to that is I REALLY liked The Flux, and I'm not sure if I could read the first book since I think a lot of the plot points are brought up in the sequel.
The Flux is set in an alternate reality. In this reality, willpower, love and obsession can make a person capable of performing 'mancy, or magic. The form of the 'mancy is shaped by the performer's obsession. Say you are deeply and totally obsessed with Star Wars? You would then be able to justify to the universe that you should be able to do what Jedi can. Mind tricks, lightsabers, and all. While your willpower can make the Universe bend to it, the Universe is like elastic. It wants to return to its regular shape. By doing so, it generates "Flux" which is negative magical energy that causes a backlash against the person. 'mancers can mitigate this by providing it a safer conduit - losing money you can afford to burn, minor inconveniences and so. But if you let it go too quickly truly bad things can occur - divorce, death, and so on. The other bit of background is "Flex", a magical drug that allows the user to gain a limited amount of power borrowed from the 'mancer who created it, but requires hematite which is closely regulated and controlled. Despite this magical world, 'mancers themselves are illegal and hunted by a Government agency called SMASH. SMASH abducts the 'mancers and then brainwashes them into a hive-mind, anti-'mancer, known as an unimancer. This is fallout from the Second World War, where the Allies and Nazi powers employed 'mancer on the battlefield. The result of this was that reality bent too far and fractured. It's implied that all of Europe is now a magically scared wasteland where interdimensional creatures that feed on magical power roam free.
The book takes place in New York City. At the center of the book is Paul Tsabo, former NYPD detective, former Insurance Investigator, current head of the NYPD's Anti-'Mancer Task Force. Only thing is Paul Tsabo is also a 'mancer who is harboring two other 'mancers - his best friend, Valentine and his daughter, Aliyah. Oh, and he is deep in debt to a Flex dealer that has been forcing him to brew the drug on the side. If things weren't bad enough, the mysterious "King of New York" has been tipping off the NYPD about his brewing operations, his daughter's powers are getting increasingly unstable and hard to control, the Mayor is breathing down his neck, a rival and now-husband to his ex-wife is looking to take his day job from him, and his ex-Wife is about ready to have his daughter institutionalized.
The book is fast-paced and clever. The approach to magic is very fresh and exciting. Paul is a bureaumancer - he uses bureaucracy and paperwork to alter reality. His best friend and his daughter are videogamemancers with a penchant for Nintendo franchises. The book introduces us to a wide variety of bizarre obsession-fueled magics.
The book under the surface explores issues of freedom versus safety, the morality of the ubermensch, interpersonal relationships, the meaning of being human and the needs of humans. It draws a lot from pop culture, albeit, sometimes in a too obvious way. It really is a much deeper book than you'd first think. I could probably write an entire essay on the dichotomies and pairings in it.
My biggest criticism of the book is the pop culture seems unaffected by the presence of magic. Europe is destroyed yet Ubisoft (a French company) games play major roles in the book. One example, Mario's fire-flower is mentioned. But would a game company in this reality have their protagonist use magic if 'mancers are demonized?
I was provided a free digital review copy by the publisher through NetGalley.