The Flux ('Mancer #2)
by Ferrett Steinmetz
TL;DR: If you're looking for some truly original urban fantasy, particularly if you're a gamer, you need to try this series. The Flux was good I read it twice. It is the sequel to the equally awesome Flex, which you should probably read first. (I adored that book as well, and interviewed the author here.)
**WARNING: I tried to minimize spoilers of the previous book, but it may not be entirely possible.**
I absolutely loved The Flux. It's incredibly difficult to follow an awesome first book, but this book actually surpasses the first. The Flux continues the story of Paul, a bureaucromancer, whose belief in the power of rules is so strong that it actually bends the fabric of reality, granting him 'mancy. I adore Paul, and I'm slightly disturbed by how well I understand his perspective. He copes with stress by making lists, including lists of all the certain deaths facing him. He's hilariously uptight, sees the universe in terms of rules, and believes that "Paperwork was what made the universe fair."
All of the characters flawed and vibrant people. I loved how Steinmetz managed to create a character like Valentine, a goth videogamemancer who is very sexually demonstrative and comfortable in her body, without ever objectifying her. Part of that comes from Paul's narrative perspective, as Paul finds Valentine to be equal parts embarrassing and bemusing. I absolutely adored their dynamics. They argue constantly--as much as Paul is capable of arguing--and then "hug it out later." Standard conversation:
"You come up with half a plan, then expect me to pull a miracle out of my ass?"
"Of course I can, but you shouldn't expect that!"
"Oh, God," he muttered. "This is such a mistake."
"That's how you always say yes!" Valentine squealed, and tackle-hugged him.
This book also solved one of my (few) issues with the previous book. While Imani was simply a two-dimensional nagging ex in Flex, in The Flux, she comes into her own. I'm not exactly sure I like her, but the exploration of her personality and motivations humanized her to the extent that I think I want to. I also enjoyed the addition of Oscar the hyper-organized mob boss and K-Dash and Quaysean, the donut-bearing gangsters.
And then there's the 'mancy. This book is dominated by videogamemancy, but we also encounter a Fight-Club-mancer (he insists he's a Palahniuk'mancer), but there's also plenty of bureaucromancy, pyromancy, and origamimancy to add a bit of spice. While this book will be more fun if you're a fan of videogames or Fight Club, the first time I read through, I caught precisely none of the pop culture references and still loved it. (When I reread, I employed a bit of Googlemancy and once I understood what Tyler Durden, Alex Mercer, and JRPGs referred to, the book was infinitely funnier.)
Like its predecessor, while this book may be a little slow to get started, when the story picks up momentum, it's utterly un-put-down-able. Sure, there's plenty of mancy and mayhem, but it's also about family and children and the pangs of growing up. It's about a little girl who discovers that Daddy isn't superman and good doesn't always triumph. It's about how learning that have value only through the efforts taken to achieve them. It's about the struggle to raise a child, the balancing act to protect her while still letting her grow through the consequences of her actions. It's about the terrible pangs of being a parent:
"If you give up everything for your children's happiness, Paul, you can't teach them how to be happy."
It's about how seeing others around us as human is part of what gives us our humanity. And all of that is packed into a thoroughly entertaining, engrossing story told within a thoroughly fascinating world.(show spoiler)
And while the ending is utterly, utterly satisfying, I can't wait for the next book.
~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Angry Robot Books, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes are taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~