Flex took me a while to get into; I started reading it a chapter here, a chapter there, and then all of a sudden, wham. Had to finish the book. Couldn’t put it aside.
Flex is the first of two books (I think) in the ‘Mancer universe. The reason for that apostrophe is that there are all kinds of ‘mancy in Steinmetz’s universe, each one predicated on a particular person’s obsession. Not all obsessives are ‘mancers, but all ‘mancers are obsessives, including one Paul Tsabo. Tsabo, the ostensible protagonist, is not entirely likable. That said, however, I don’t mind my Point-of-View characters being a bit unlikable because it means they’re real in a way a lot of authors don’t manage to nail.
Tsabo works for an insurance company, and his particular obsession is order; this manifests in his becoming what he calls a bureaumancer. It’s not that he can affect the world using a bureau, but rather that paperwork and bureaucracy are the way he enforces order on the world. Though he hasn’t used it much prior to the beginning of the story his magic is still there. Which is bad, because the universe doesn’t like to be manipulated, particularly; just like Newton’s Third Law for every Flex there is a Flux (though this appears to be more profound for Flex-the-magic-drug than simply for exercising ‘mancy).
Can I just say, here, and speaking as a Supernatural fan, how very happy I am that we do not live in a world where obsession can crest over into magic? Just an aside.
Where Tsabo’s ‘mancy is good, however, is that it allows him to save his daughter from an apartment fire caused by someone else in the building having used Flex the drug and the resulting Flux. Or, rather, mostly save her; she lives, but she is badly burned. And then the insurance company he works for refuses to pay for her treatments.
And things only get more convoluted from there — villains, videomancers, Flex, Flux, daughters, ex-wives, Tsabo’s previous injury from the last time he faced down a ‘mancer…there’s a lot to take in.
I believe the hang-up for me with getting absorbed in Tsabo’s world had to do with the sheer amount of worldbuilding Steinmetz had to throw at the reader, but once the characters are established and the plot picks up it’s a fast, absorbing read. Definitely one I can recommend, and I’m looking forward to picking up Flux some time in the near future.