Justine Jones is a hypochondriac whose mental health is quickly spiraling downward. She’s convinced she has vein star syndrome, the condition that killed her mother. Then she meets the mysterious Packard, who recruits her into his team of Disillusionists. Disillusionists are essentially psychic vigilantes, attacking criminals by zapping their own psychological problems into the bad guy’s energy field. When the criminal has been reduced to a gibbering mass of anxiety, so Packard’s theory goes, he or she can start building a new life as a better person.
Mind Games is set in a fictional city where “highcaps” (high-capacity humans) exist alongside regular humans. A few holdouts don’t believe in the highcaps’ superpowers, but most people do. These powers make it difficult for highcap criminals to be caught and incarcerated, a problem that comes up several times in the story.
Carolyn Crane gets major points for originality. The metaphysics of Disillusionment is amazingly inventive, and Justine makes a unique heroine in that her powers are psychological rather than physical or witchy. The plot is original, too; you think you know how it’s going to go, but that’s not what happens. The way the climax and ending unfold is delightfully unpredictable.
The beginning is rockier than the end. There’s some “telling” where one might expect “showing” — for example, there are conversations that are mentioned after the fact when they’d be more effective onstage — and some scenes that don’t seem to advance the plot much.
Additionally, Justine can be annoying. This is partly because her hypochondria is so severe that she can’t distance herself at all during an attack. Instead of thinking “I wonder if this is another attack,” she always thinks she is actually dying at that very moment and narrates these scenes accordingly. While this can be exhausting, though, it also inspires sympathy. The larger problem is her extreme wishy-washiness about the men in her life.
I’ll definitely look into the second book, Double Cross, however. Crane has set up a creative world with paranormal phenomena that aren’t at all like the well-worn ones you’re used to. You’ll probably enjoy it if you’re a fan of Stacia Kane or Laura Bickle; to me, the “feel” is similar to the books of those two authors. Just don’t read Mind Games if you have even the slightest nagging trace of a headache — you might just become convinced you have vein star too.
Carolyn Crane’s THE DISILLUSIONISTS TRILOGY is a unique urban fantasy series. While there are some typical tropes in there (the quippy heroine, the hunk and mysterious guy, romance, etc.), Crane keeps things fresh. Her characters aren’t perfect; in fact, they are far from it. The protagonist, Justine, and the secondary characters are important to the plot specifically because of their flaws. For example, Justine is a hypochondriac. Now, when was the last time you read a book with a hypochondriac protagonist? Never? That’s what I thought.
Mind Games, the first book in the trilogy, has a distinct first-book feel about it. Crane spends much of her time developing the world, the magic system, the various characters and sides of the issue(s) and so forth. Some readers might find that this book starts slowly, but others (like myself) might enjoy the worldbuilding and all the unique elements Crane brings into existence. The plot takes off about 1/4th into the book, though it doesn’t really feel like it has a distinct direction until about the halfway point.
Mind Games, like all of the other books in this series, deals with a love triangle. Romance is usually a point of contention for me, and while it’s not really that shocking to see how the romantic elements will end up at the end of the series, Crane keeps things pretty mature. There isn’t any real oppressive jealousy involved, or hulking men who glower and glare, hide in shadows and control. Crane brings her unique brand of psychology into the romance as well, and that’s probably the redeeming factor that made all of the love interests and weird love triangles palatable for me. They’re believable, and they have a real-world feel to them that most urban fantasy books just don’t contain. Furthermore, while romance is always present in the plot, it doesn’t overpower the events that take place, but smoothly runs alongside and balances things out nicely.
The Disillusionists — (2010-2014) Publisher: 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.