I think I’m always behind the curve when it comes to the Urban Fantasy genre; another title which I got clued much later than its release was Mind Games by Carolyn Crane, first in the The Disillusionists Trilogy. This book has been getting high praise from various sections, but me being me, never got around to reading it. Though, I was able to rectify this situation a few weeks ago when I read both her books back to back. I then came to know of the unfortunate news that she has parted ways with Spectra. But the author has said that she will be releasing the third book with another publisher.
Going on to Mind Games, the plot opens by introducing us to Justine Jones, a resident of Midcity [a vague Midwestern US city] who tries to live a normal life, but has one very big problem on her hands. The fact that she’s a hypochondriac who thinks she has vein star syndrome, a disease wherein the person has no idea when it will strike but whenever it does, the results are almost positively fatal. She is on a date with a guy called Cubby. However midst her meal she happens upon a person from her past who had swindled her father. She tries to tell the couple with him about it but to no avail. Not thinking much about it, she carries on with her date, and is later met by the same couple who offer her a tantalizing proposal.
Intrigued, but wary, she decides to meet their leader, a certain Sterling Packard who shows her how to discard her fear out of her body (quite literally). Then he hands her an invitation to join his team of disillusionists who are an undercover vigilante team who handle criminals by manipulating their fears and thereby shutting them down in more ways than one. Justine accepts after an initial period of doubt, and is immediately set her first task, but little does she know of the grim future ahead.
Mind Games is an absolutely terrific read when you consider the plot and its implications. Here is a superhero book which calls upon people to channelize their fear and somehow utilize it to affect people whom they target. I absolutely loved this concept, and was thrilled by the author’s execution of it. Justine Jones as a character is fun to read about, her neurosis, her fears, her thoughts are generously laid bare across the book for the reader to get an intimate hold of the person she is. Also, she's the sole POV voice of the story and if she weren’t so interesting I believe this story would have fallen flat. The overall plot is set into motion, and in the latter half of the book we find out what has actually happened previously in Midcity and what is currently going on. The author has inserted a very crucial mystery in the story in regards to Sterling Packard, the leader of the Disillusionists. This mystery propels Justine and the readers through the plot, and in the end with the revelation, the climax becomes that much more exciting to read about. The author has also done a very good job with her world building as she brings to life Midcity and its denizens. There is also enough humor inserted to make this book a little less dark than the subject matter is, and its via Justine's monologues we get several funny moments.
Drawbacks to this story are few but present. The first niggle I noticed was that pace of the book suffers from all the exposition it contained. Now, this is a very crucial balance; too little explanation and the story seems contrived, too slow and the reader would be hard pressed to finish the story. In this regard, Carolyn Crane got the balance a bit askew, but this being her debut book one can hardly fault her for it. There’s also an inexplicable attraction for Justine towards another main character who had yet to be introduced in the story, and after the first 4-5 times being mentioned, it can be a bit annoying. I believe the author was using the build-up as per the story requirements, and this move does pan out when the character is finally introduced to the readers. However this again could have been done with a bit more subtlety.
Overall Mind Games is a terrific addition to the Urban Fantasy field, and the way it's written, it has a little bit of everything for most of the genre readers except Vampires, Werewolves, and other such wanton critters. This should easily count as a plus point especially since 90-95% of the books feature them. A good debut book which takes a slightly unusual route via its plot and magic system, Carolyn Crane is definitely an author to look out for in the future with whatever she chooses to write about.