Don’t take the rating personally. It’s not you–it’s me. Really, there’s a lot to like in your book; a parallel world with ‘mancers, magic that comes out of passion, distilled magic as part of the drug trade…
Wait, not that last bit. Because while it makes absolute sense, I just don’t. I don’t do sloppy drug trade setting, and prefer to avoid realistic setting in anything but Serious Movies and Breaking Bad. Maybe its because the memory of the last kid I took care of whose ‘buddies’ dropped him off not breathing and a lovely shade of light blue at the ER. The night was capped off by calling Security when he was ripping out the IV, ready to walk out the door, and his helpless, frustrated mom who walked out before he did. I don’t like playing in that world during my free time, because I live in it at work. It is heartbreaking and maddening– there are too many assholes, a lot of sad stories, a truckload of lies–both unintentional and purposeful–and no happy endings. I suppose you might have reached that message somewhere in Flex, perhaps with the concept of Flux coming back to bite the magician in the butt, but what I mostly got was the idea that Paul would deal with the devil to achieve his goal, and if he could made
drugs magic without cost, he would. The extreme characterization of a drug dealer who chains his source to a radiator didn’t really help your cause.
Let’s talk characters, particularly Paul, underdog hero. His endless guilt trips, particularly the self-flagellation about his daughter, Aliyah, and his directionless wandering in his own life did not build a character I cared about. Again, I’m willing to take blame here. I don’t have children and don’t understand the endless guilt trip Paul has about saving his kid’s life and his obsession about getting her plastic surgery. Maybe because his character doesn’t have any balance; there’s the ex-relationship, the daughter issues, the work issues. His history comes in context of an unhappy divorce and previously unhappy job. Whatever it is, I have a hard time identifying with him or even rooting for him as I watched him run on his mental gerbil wheel. The best parts were the times that Paul delved into his magic and his joy in creating order from chaos was able to shine. For the rest, well… congratulations on being able to bring a whiny, self-centered six-year-old to life (I know, I know; they all are). Your villain, not so much. If we didn’t have you switching to the villain’s perspective, I don’t think I’d know much at all.
Although, if we’re being honest, I’d have to say you should share a tad bit of the blame. The story-telling was choppy. I appreciate an experimental narrative structure in the hands of a practitioner, but chapter installments drew attention to the lack of transitions instead of facilitating them. Sometimes the chapter ended and picked up one second later. Sometimes it ended, and the next began in the future, then flashed back to the middle. It’s not a bad idea, but you need a story and style that can use the sophistication of that technique. I suppose the underdog, concealed-power plot is based on the superhero tradition, but could you have classed it up a bit? Apparently Paul is able to identify the villain through magical nausea, but lines like “focusing on her magic was like pushing his head deeper into a barf bag” isn’t going to win you much love.
The ending pulled it together in a decent way, and your writing finally had a chance to shine. I wish you luck with your series, I really do, but I have doubts I’ll continue. It’s got the underdog-double life superhero thing going for it, so I’m sure you’ll find an audience. I think it’ll especially appeal to fans of Wendig’s Miriam Black series. Which I also disliked, so you’re in fabulous company.