Series: Disillusionists, Book 1
Rating: 2 Stars
Formats: Mass Market Paperback, Kindle
Mind Games Made My Head Hurt
What do you do when you read a book and are completely captivated by the originality of the concept, appreciate the skill in the writing, and loved the uniqueness of the whole thing...but disliked the heroine and style of the book to such a degree that it literally gives you a headache...or maybe a vein star? That's my dilemma with Mind Games. I loved the idea of the book, but didn't like the book itself very much at all, and I really wanted to.
Justine Jones is a raging hypochondriac so overwhelmed by her neurosis that it may literally kill her one day. She tries to be normal. Yearns to be normal. She's dating the perfect Ken doll and struggling daily with debilitating neurosis when she's approached by a stranger who tells her that not only can he save her, he's the only one who can free her from her condition. Justine is understandably skeptical. Despite skepticism, however, Justine's fear drives her back to the restaurant where Sterling Packard first approached her, and there, with Packard's help, she releases her fear into him and knows for the first time in her life the bliss and utopia of peace.
But peace comes with a price. Conscripted to join Packard's band of merry disillusionists - a group of neurotic individuals who have learned to use their neurosis against criminals in order to reboot their psyche and turn them into law abiding and fruitful members of society in a very Band of Superheroes sort of way - Justine is drawn deeper and deeper into a gray area of life in which she uses her hypochondria to attack other people on an intrinsic level. Justine, however, is understandably torn. When she finds out that Packard was less than forthcoming with her, and his motives and machinations come into question, Justine finds herself at a loss - dependent on the man for her continued sanity but clinging to a sense of values and code of ethics that just might, in the end, get her killed.
Mind Games is one of the weirdest book I've ever read. I don't mean that in a bad way, exactly, but I do know that neither the style of the book, with the comic-book characters acting in very flamboyant fashion, pitting the Master and his disillusionist minions against criminal humans and the occasional Highcap (telepaths, telekinetics, etc.), nor the heroine, with her rampant indecision, naivety, and inability to adapt to the gray areas of life, along with her propensity to loathe and lust after Packard at the same time, quite worked for me. I found the present tense, first person POV to be largely distracting, and as the book is written from Justine's POV, and I disliked her so very much, it made it too hard for me to enjoy much about this book at all.
I think that's a shame, because I can recognize strong writing, and I usually love stories in which the white hats and the black hats are so deliciously interchangeable. I think Crane did an excellent job with the book in that regard. She really provided a lot of varied characters and caricatures with all manner of quirks, flaws, and peccadilloes, and fleshed out the world they inhabit nicely.
I just didn't like it. I didn't like how absurd the whole Brick Slinger thread felt, or how ludicrous it was to me that they call Packard's nemesis Nemesis. Or that Packard even has a nemesis. And every time Justine rhapsodized over the Chief of Police like some star struck teenybopper at a boyband concert, and went on and on about how good he was and how he was going to stop all crime, I wanted to hurl. I was even annoyed that Justine's boyfriend's name was Cubby and no matter how he was described, I kept visualizing him as a humanoid Care Bear. Please understand, those reactions are not an indictment of the work. And yes, I do understand the concept of subtle foreshadowing and laying groundwork and understand with some measure of clarity what the author was trying to accomplish. I just don't like the style (any more than I like Tim Burton movies, for example - the style just doesn't suit me). That doesn't mean Crane's not brilliant at it and won't have a tremendous writing career ahead of her with it. I'm sure she will and I wish her the best. I just don't know that I'll be following along for the ride.
Crane's second in the Disillusionist series, Double Cross, will be available September 28th. 2010.