Author: Carolyn Crane
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publication Date: March 2010
Paperback: 384 pages
JUSTINE KNOWS SHE’S GOING TO DIE. ANY SECOND NOW.
Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she’s convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine’s soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal. With a little of Packard’s hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity’s worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from fear she’s always craved. End of problem.
Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing police chief is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine’s first missions, including one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into a world of wizardry, eroticism, and cosmic secrets. With Packard’s help, Justine has freed herself from her madness—only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone’s worst fears.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Disillusionist Trilogy
How did we get this book: Review Copies from the Author
Why did we read this book: All cards on the table, author Carolyn Crane (aka CJ) is one of our blogging buddies. She runs the witty, fun, fantabulous The Thrillionth Page, and so when she offered us review copies of her book, we OF COURSE were thrilled. If also a little scared…
Thea: Holy hypochondria, Batman! Mind Games is, in a single word, AWESOME.
No, seriously. I’m not just saying that because author Carolyn Crane (calling her by her full name feels so very weird to me) is a blogging bud because in many ways I think we are even harsher on those we know. I was actually terrified to read this book because of the fact that we know CJ. As reviewers first, Ana and I have an obligation to be completely honest, and if Mind Games wasn’t so hot, this would have been an awkward review to write. Thank goodness, Mind Games was not only a decent read – it was a superb one. Blending a mindblowingly awesome original premise with a comic book sensibility, a dash of humor, and a smidgen of romance, Mind Games totally rocks.
Ana: I too, started out terrified, yet hopeful, and I am so SO glad that all my fears were unwarranted. Mind Games delivers in every single possible way: a fantastic, original premise; an incredible protagonist/narrator whose voice I loved; plus a bit of humour and romance; and to finalise the writing was top notch. I knew Carolyn Crane was a good writer from what I saw in her blog in the past few years, I just didn’t know how good she would be until I read Mind Games and it blew my mind away. I am so proud and happy to report that I couldn’t agree more with Thea: this book is AWESOME.
On the Plot:
Thea: Justine Jones is an obsessive hypochondriac. Since her hypochondriac mother’s ironic death of Vein Star Syndrome, Justine has lived her life constrained by her morbid, mortal fear of a vein bursting in her brain. One evening, during a chance encounter at a restaurant called Mongolian Delights, changes the downward spiraling course of Justine’s life. It is here that she meets Packard, a “highcap” (that is, a human with the mutant/psy-powers) with a particularly unique ability to visualize a person’s psyche and to use and channel their neuroses and energies. The leader of a group called the “Disillusionists,” Packard recruits misfits with extraordinary mental imbalances (rage, pessimism, ennui, addictions) and teaches them to channel that negative energy into specific targets. Packard and his Disillusionists are a psychological hit squad, a dream team that reforms criminals with a 0% rate of failure by changing the very way these people think and feel, forcing them to confront the awesome horribleness of their crimes.
When Packard sees Justine’s incredible capacity for fear, he makes her the offer of a lifetime; she will join his team and in return she will not only reform the most heinous of criminals, but she will also be cured forever of the fear that will one day drive her insane. Because once she channels her fear into a hit (a process the Disillusionists call “zinging”), she will be at peace (albeit temporarily). Taking a chance, Justine joins the squad and finds peace in a way she never before thought possible. But, as Uncle Ben would say, with great power comes great responsibility, and Justine finds herself in a tangled web of deceit, betrayal, and passion. Without being sure of whom she can trust, Justine must choose to follow her conscience and her heart.
(Ok, admittedly, that blurb recap was a little cheesy – you get the idea)
Mind Games is at its strongest in terms of its plot. My goodness, what a unique premise this is! We are used to the usual hit squads of mutants with superpowers, of badass fighters, of morally-convicted vigilantes…but it’s a pretty rare sight to have neurotic hypochondriacs and their ilk taking center stage as heroic characters. I cannot even begin to express how ecstatic I was when I discovered that there was not a single vampire, werewolf, fey creature, or witch/wizard/mage in sight. Set in a contemporary city eversoslightly different than our own familiar world (in that telekinesis and other psychological powers are dangerous realities, and even “normal” folks can push and manipulate others’ energy fields), Ms. Crane (weird!) manages to create a fictional metropolis that comes to life in its texture and detail (right down to the city’s heart of darkness, its root of all evil: the dreaded freeway interchange). The power hierarchies and systems of mind powers are believable and fully conceived, coming across beautifully on the page.
In short, I loved it. I loved the world, I loved the well-paced plot, and I loved the originality of Mind Games. That’s not to say that Mind Games is a perfect book – because it’s not. Though Ms. Crane has a strong, well-conceived and fully imagined plot, the writing could be a bit awkward at times with a few odd exclamations sprinkled throughout and one or two questionable almost-sex scenes that don’t quite work…although I should mention that my copy of the book was an early manuscript, and these writing quibbles may not have made the final manuscript.
Ana: The premise of the novel is amazing – I was utterly charmed by it and thought it was not only clever but also unique. I have to echo Thea’s thoughts when it comes to the competent way in which Carolyn Crane weaves the details of the world building in a believable and fun manner. The name of the group itself (originally posed to be the title of the novel, by the way, to wit I say: WHY not, dear publisher? The Disilusionists sound so much better than Mind Games ) , the basics of their “power” and their purpose was a source of continuous amusement but also posed difficult questions about its moral implications (but more on that later) that had me positively salivating with eagerness. If there is one thing I love about my books, is when its plot and characters traffic in a more grey area and as soon as I was done with the book, all I wanted to do was to talk and discuss the outcome and the consequences of certain plot lines. That makes Mind Games stand out in a world inhabited with books that are good but fail to engage the reader beyond its final lines.
Speaking of lines, I mentioned how much I loved the author’s writing. It is along with Justine, my favourite thing about the book, even more than the plot. The prose is engaging, funny, quirky but also, at some points emotional and profound. And with such turn of phrases and one-liners that had me in stitches:
“I’m used to desperate, buddy. Desperate’s my factory default”
“Fashion magazine disease articles. My personal kryptonite.”
Aren’t those awesome? They would make cool t-shirts too.
Having said that, I also thought that a couple of scenes happened in a too convenient sequence: for example, one of the Disillusionists teaches Justine something that only he could do and next thing you know, that was exactly what Justine needed in order to save her own life a couple of days later. Similarly, I thought the connection between Justine and another character towards the end of the novel happened too fast (although not without some foreshadowing) but I fully understand that without that connection that end of the novel would not have been possible at all.
On the Characters:
Thea: Like the plot, the characters in Mind Games are truly awesome. I loved quirky, totally effed-up-in-the-head protagonist Justine – seriously, how often does a terrified, balls-to-the-walls-insane hypochondriac get her own series?! – and despite her neuroses, she’s never annoying or tiresome. In fact, her fears kind of endear her. I loved that she reacted like a human being would – when she finds out she’s been played and lied to, she gets pissed and goes on a rampage and she doesn’t forget about it. How many times have I read a book where a heroine has been wronged *cough*RachelMorgan*cough* only to forgive and forget all about it in the next few chapters? Justine has a backbone and a conscience, and she’s not afraid to use ’em both. And that’s damn cool in a heroine. Heck, Justine might be clawing her deranged way into my heart as one of my favorite UF heroines, period.
And then, of course, there are the boys. Packard is (naturally) gorgeous and sexy in a dangerous way – but he’s not cheesy, nor is he portrayed as a hardass with a heart of gold…because he’s not. He’s a manipulator and he has his own agenda, and I liked that Carolyn Crane does not shy away from that and attempt to create some romance alpha hero with him. There are two other men in Justine’s life, but more on that after the spoiler/discussion break.
As for the rest of the supporting cast, what can I say? I loved them all. Russian realist (pessimist? nihilist?) Shelby adds a dry, welcome perspective that contrasts nicely with Justine’s. Carter and the ambiguous character Simon also add some wonderful spice to the book. One of my favorite scenes involves the squad sitting down together talking about their various mental issues and why their own mental maladjustments are the most severe, and therefore they are the most valuable to the team. It’s delightfully perverse, just as these characters are winsomely bizarre. The Disillusionists make up the coolest psychological hit squad I’ve ever read, that’s for damn sure.
Ana: Unlike Thea, I actually thought that the characters were the strongest aspects of the novel and I fell in love with Justine as soon as the book started. She is an amazing protagonist yes, for all the things that Thea mention (I too, cheered her when she did not forget and forgive easily when she was wrong) but most importantly because she was so messed up. Even though she is eminently good and with a conscience she is also quite self-serving: she knows the reasons why she is with her boyfriend Cubby are not the right reasons and yet she carries on with him. She might see herself as more black and white person but she is capable of many things, there is a degree of darkness in Justine that is explored beautifully by the author in the way she second-guesses herself and her mission and how she feels about for example “zinging”. She is self-aware of certain things but completely in denial about others, one of them being the nature of her relationship with her boss, Packard. She can deny as much as she wants but she has more in common with manipulative and liar Packard than she would ever admit. Seeing how this will play out eventually will be grand.
As for Packard: he is a manipulator, a conniving liar bastard and…..I loved him even if he broke my heart a little bit. I did understand his motivations though and the fact that he was unabashedly unrepentant. He may not have a heart of gold as Thea puts it, but he is not completely bad either.
The other Disillusionists were also great secondary characters and I liked Carter and his anger issues the most. I loved how Justine captures their nature in this sentence:
“I have the brief sense of us as super villains from a B-rate thriller. Except we’re more like crime fighters – if there were crime fighters who got their superpowers from being really neurotic, and used them as part of a bizarre and marginally ethical program of criminal rehabilitation.”
Final Thoughts, Verdict & Rating:
Thea: If you couldn’t tell, I loved Mind Games. Really, really loved it. From its irresistible originality to its manic, maladjusted heroine, I loved this book. And I cannot wait for more from this talented new author.
Ana: I loved it and think everybody should read it. Oh yes, please bring on the next book in the series, please. ASAP!
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
FROM WHERE WE SIT I have the perfect view of Shady Ben Foley, dining on the other side of the lavishly decorated Mongolian restaurant. He’s with an innocent-looking young couple— a pretty girl with dark ringlets and a wholesome blond country- boy fellow. Do they not get what he is?
The last time I saw Foley was maybe fifteen years ago— I was a teen and he was a middle- aged man in drawstring pants, mowing his lawn and ripping off my family. He’s grown paler and thicker, but I recognized his sharp little nose and peering eyes the instant I saw him out on the street.
My boyfriend, Cubby, pulls a hunk of meat off his skewer. He’s been a good sport, letting me drag him here to basically stalk a man. He smiles, all dimples and short blond curls. “Kebabs is a weird food,” he says.
Cubby glances over his shoulder. “Maybe he’s reformed.”
“A man like Foley doesn’t reform.” I glare across the room; judging from his victims’ body language, Shady Ben has maneuvered himself into a power position. Con men are experts at that. “I have to warn them.”
And this is when I feel it— the sensation of prickles raining over my scalp, followed by a suspicious twinge in my head. No!I think. Please let it not be happening right now!
“Justine, is something wrong?”
I put down my napkin. “I have to say something.”
“It’s not your job to save them,” he says.
“But I have to try.”
A wave of wooziness suggests my blood pressure’s dropping. It really is happening, I think with some shock. My condition, known as “vein star syndrome,” is the proverbial ticking time bomb in the head. Once you’re past the point of vascular rupture, no medical attention can save you.
This strange clarity comes over me and I decide not to tell Cubby. If these really are my last minutes, I want to spend them warning these two innocent people, like I wished somebody had warned my family.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
We have one AUTOGRAPHED copy of Mind Games to give away to a lucky reader! To enter, all you need to do is leave a comment here, telling us what Disillusionist “superpower” (i.e. hypochondriac’s fear, a gambler’s addiction) you would unleash on Midcity’s criminals. The contest is open to everyone, and will run until Saturday, March 27th at 11:59 PM (PST). Good luck!
Thea: 8 – Excellent
Ana:8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes
After reading Mind Games, both of us decided that we simply couldn’t pass up on an opportunity to discuss the book in detail…which means SPOILERS AHOY! After the break, we will discuss everything from vigilantism to Justine’s love life, and we invite everyone else that’s interested to join in.
**SPOILERS AFTER THE BREAK! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!**
On Disillusionists and Vigilantism:
Are the Disillusionists right in their decision to subvert the law and rehabilitate crooks, or are they in the wrong? Is this form of rehabilitation acceptable, or is it inhumane? Is this form of vigilantism heroic or admirable? Or should they all be locked in their own force-field prisons, just as Packard is?
Thea: I’m pretty sure you know where I stand on the matter (considering we’ve had this discussion a few times vis a vis Batman and Watchmen) – but I’m all for the Disillusionists’ methods. Yes, they are vigilantes in that they subvert the law, BUT the criminals that they are hired to “hit” are those that have hoodwinked the law. They’ve either already had their chance at due process and have gotten off on technicalities, or they are members of the law themselves and are untouchable by anyone else. And the Disillusionists’ brand of rehabilitation is undeniably effective – changing the very nature of their subjects, forcing them to confront their own heinous deeds. Provided that the Disillusionists vet each of their hits and know beyond any doubt that they are guilty of their crimes, I’m all for this method of rehab. It’s more humane and more effective than death, at least in my opinion.
Ana: I am very conflicted about this whole thing. I love reading about vigilantes but I am never ever sure I vigilantism is a true solution or part of the problem.
Yes, I agree that their methods are probably more humane and effective than death, or even better than keeping highcaps locked away. BUT I actually had a sense of dread when read about their methods. I am not only weary of the way they act: is it really morally correct to just hit and zing their targets? How is that a real rehab when the person to be rehabilitated doesn’t even know he/she is going through rehab? But I am also not SO sure that they are truly effective. I mean, yes, there are positive cases but how many of those do exist? Furthermore can Packard and the group continue to do what they do without any consequences to their own sanity and health? In any case, yes, right now, taking into consideration the way Midcity is, they are probably the best, momentarily . How long will it last though until someone breaks down? I am particularly intrigued by a line uttered by one of them: “when is good not good?” . Does that refer to their actions? To the group as a whole or is it referring to one person in specific (Otto??). I simply can’t wait to see where it all goes!
On Justine’s Love Life:
Cubby, Packard, or Otto?
Thea: Oh, I am almost always for the bad boy – it’s a no brainer for me. Packard, for the win! Cubby was sweet but boring and completely wrong for Justine. Otto is…well, too square for me. And although he does have that connection with Justine, I just don’t think he’s right for her. He’s like the ideal that she always tries to emulate; he’s what she thinks she wants, just like with Cubby. But Packard…well, he’s chaos and danger, yes, but he also knows exactly who Justine is and wants her for that.
Plus, I find it hard to take a 6-foot plus dude in a beret seriously. (Like, seriously, a beret in the swimming pool? NO!)
Ana: Do you even have to ask? PACKARD! Even if he did something really wrong, and I hope Justine takes a long time to forgive him; even if I actually really like Otto, beret and all, and actually rooted for him in the end of this book, I still think Packard is the end game. Otto is just another Cubby for Justine, a safe, perfect choice that is not real.
I think their love triangle can be compared to that of Jack-Kate-Sawyer form Lost. (Yes, I am going there). Kate is deep, deeeeep down a good person but she is capable of horrible acts – she is conniving, she is a liar, she is a murderer! I think that her motivation for being with Jack is just like Justine’s for being with Otto (or Cubby) : an attempt to deny the darkness within by being with someone who is inherently good and wholesome. But Sawyer is the one that fully understands and accepts Kate (just like Packard) for what she is AND he may have started out as conniving liar but he redeemed himself without losing his edge.
So yeah, Team Packard for the win!
And that’s it from us, folks! What about you? If you’ve read MIND GAMES, feel free to jump into the conversation!