Mind Games (Carolyn Crane, The Disillusionists Trilogy #1)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
In Mind Games, a group of people afflicted by various psychoses finds a way to project their maladies onto others and use their powers to reform criminals.  I had a very difficult time reviewing Mind Games and an even harder time rating it.  It’s a bit less what I would traditionally call fantasy and more a romance with fantasy trappings, and the novel suffers from many of the common shortcomings that plague that genre.  The two main issues are that the protagonist is an unlikable, unrealistic author avatar with whom, for no discernable reason, everyone in the universe instantly falls in love, even though her behavior is consistently horrible, and endless paragraphs are squandered on completely superfluous descriptions of what everyone is wearing or eating, which bored me to tears.  To my utter shock, all this horribleness is largely countered by a very imaginative setting and a largely unpredictable story.  I felt strangely compelled to, by the thinnest of margins, recommend this book based on the fact that despite it’s very glaring shortcomings, it really succeeds more admirably in what makes the fantasy genre great: imagination and telling a unique story.  However, I still don’t think I’ll be picking up the other books in this series.

Greater Detail:
Justine Jones is a hypochondriac who is convinced that a blood vessel is going to burst in her head at any minute.  Plagued with this delusion throughout her life, she has supposedly had a very wretched time even though, for some reason unexplained in the book, everyone she meets instantly thinks she is the greatest person who has ever lived and bends over backwards to make her happy.  She faces a hard choice between continuing on with her life of supposed misery or joining a dangerous gang of psychosis projecting vigilantes when, in an improbably random circumstance only explainable by author laziness, Justine goes into a restaurant owned by the one man in the world who can teach her how to project psychosis onto others.

I really can’t overemphasize just how annoying the protagonist is.  I’m used to some empty or unlikable protagonists, but Justine Jones has such an odious personality that I was somewhat taken aback by the fact that the author seems to genuinely expect the reader to do anything but loath and revile her.  I had initially thought that part of my distaste for the character might stem from some shameful puritanical misogynist beliefs on my part that Justine was amoral due to the fact that she lusts after nearly everyone she encounters, but after some soul searching, I came to realize that anyone who is so uniformly lustful is at least guilty of very low standards or a sexual addiction.

Despite its many failings, Mind Games does succeed in one aspect that many contemporary writers ignore altogether: it tells a decent story.  Many modern authors forget the storytelling aspects altogether and have an introduction, a period where the characters sort of wander around aimlessly, then once the requisite page limit is neared, a tacked-on conclusion.  Mind Games was a bit of a surprise in that the story is very deliberately structured, and most everything in the book contributes directly from to the journey from introduction to conclusion (with the exception of the squandered paragraphs devoted to clothes and food).  The story is even fairly unpredictable, not just the standard love story formula I think of as being most common to things treading near the romance category.

The setting was also a welcome boon.  The psychologically damaged mental hit squad is really something I’ve never seen before.  It probably could have been done better, and I’m not quite sure how it fit in with the rest of the setting as a whole, but for pure imagination and something different the author deserves lots of credit.  This was the first book I’ve read in a long time where the characters were something completely different than what I’m used to and doing something I had never really seen done before, and despite all its serious flaws, that is why I finally decided to marginally recommend this book.  I don’t think I can bring myself to read the others in the trilogy, though; I’ve spent quite enough time with Justine Jones already.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
I’m not really a fan of the urban fantasy/romance offshoot as a whole, so my recommendations are probably a bit weak here overall.  I thought Magic Bites: A Kate Daniels Novel by Ilona Andrews was decent and somewhat similar in that it was a deliberately structured mystery in an intriguing world.  I can’t remember how prominently any romantic aspects featured, but at least the protagonist isn’t quite as obnoxious as Justine Jones.

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