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Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Author: Carolyn Crane
Plot Type: UF
Ratings: V3, S3½, H2
Publisher and Titles: Spectra
         Mind Games (2010)
         Double Cross (2010)
         Head Rush (e-book, 2011) (FINAL BOOK IN REGULAR SERIES)
         Devil's Luck (e-book novella, 2012, Simon's story)

     This blog entry was revised and updated on 4/24/12 to include a review of the final book in this trilogy: Head Rush. That review comes first, followed by an overview of the world-building and very brief summaries of the first two books:

       BOOK 3: Head Rush       
     The gimmick in book 3 is that everyone but Justine knows that her memory was revised at the end of book 2, so as the story progresses, we watch her put her the jumbled puzzle pieces of her mind back in order. Head Rush opens several months after book 2 ended, and Justine's wedding to Otto Sanchez is just days away. She's sure that she loves him, but somehow, things don't seem quite right. For example, every time Otto reaches for something in his jacket pocket, Justine flinches, and every time she remembers that Packard shot Avery, she gets sharp, blinding pains in her head. Could these things be related, she wonders? Then one day, Packard sneaks into Otto's apartment, where Justine has been living, and tells her that her mind has been revised, meaning that a high cap with memory revision powers has wiped out some of her memories and replaced them with others. The dilemma is that a revised person doesn't remember being revised, so Justine reacts with anger and disbelief and orders Packard out of her house. Justine's friends aren't helping the situation, either, because they seem to be keeping secrets from her

     The crime situation in Midcity has gotten so serious that Otto, now the much-beloved mayor, has declared martial law, with a strictly enforced nightly curfew to keep people off the streets. Justine continues to value her close relationship with Otto because they both have the same hypochondriacal fears about the fatal vein-star syndrome, and they are able to comfort and calm one another. But what if Otto isn't as innocent as he seems? What if Packard didn't kill Avery? What if Otto is sending Justine to nursing school just to keep her off balance by causing her to worry about catching all of the diseases she is studying about? Why are some of the city's most evil high caps wreaking havoc on the streets of Midcity when Otto claims that he has them locked away behind his force fields? Eventually, with the help of her friendsespecially Simon, Shelby, and PackardJustine tries to sort out the truth, and figure out a way to cheat fate. To add some humor, we meet Justine's germophobic father in this book when he comes to the wedding with his heavily armored hazmat suit, which he plans to wear as he walks her down the aisle

     This is a satisfying conclusion to a terrific series. It's not as action filled as the previous books, but it has a deep emotional core. The great thing about this series is that no one is 100% evil. Each character does some bad thingssome more than othersbut they frequently believe (or at least tell themselves) that they are acting for the greater good. Click HERE to read chapter 1 of Head Rush. 

     Crane has written one more novella set in the DISILLUSIONIST world, and that one tells Simon's story. Simon is one of Justine's fellow disillusionists and his disability is that he is a reckless risk taker. This is a love story, as Simon takes up with Fawna, the high cap prognosticator we met in Head Rush. You know right away that they're meant for each other because as soon as they meet, they start verbally sniping at one anothera sure sign of pending romance.

     Crane takes a fresh approach to retribution in this series set in Midcity, USA, located on the shore of Lake Michigan like an alternate Chicago or Milwaukee. She also gives us an imaginative and unconventional heroine and a love triangle unlike any I’ve seen in other UF series. In this world, people with magic (who would be called mages in other series) are called high caps (an acronym for high capacity humans), each with a particular magical ability and each tending to misuse his or her power. Individual high caps can manifest any one of a number of psychic powers, including telekinesis, telepathy, dream invasion, structural interface, psychological insight, memory revision, and prognostication

     One highcap (Sterling Packard) has the ability to understand any person’s psychological structure. Packard has assembled a team of humans with crippling psychological problems (e.g., alcoholism, gambling compulsion, depression, rage, extreme angst), and he uses them as psychological vigilantes to punish various villains who have somehow escaped unscathed from the judicial system.

     Team members (called disillusionists) are taught to channel their bad feelings into the villains’ psyches. As the bad guys and gals absorb more and more of each disillusionist’s fears and anxieties, the team members have a "glory hour" in which they feel much better, but the villains feel much worse, to the point that their lives eventually collapse and they must rebuild their essence from the beginning. Thus, the villains are punished—but nonviolently—and turned into good citizens who have learned from their past mistakes. What a concept! No need for prisons or trials or executions or criminal lawyers

     The series heroine is Justine Jones, an über-hypochondriac, whose tattered life is spent in emergency rooms waiting for her brain to explode, as her mother’s did, from a severe vascular condition called vein-star syndrome. Here, Justine reflects on vein-star: "There's no way to tell if you have vein-star syndrome, but it is thought to be hereditary, and it's what my mother died of. A doctor once told me that for a lot of diseases, genetics cocks the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger." (Head Rush) 

     In Mind Games, Justine meets Packard, who promises to rid her permanently of her health-related fears and guarantees her a new life. Packard, however, doesn’t tell Justine the whole truth because he has secrets and fears of his own, and he needs Justine’s powers to help him achieve his goals. When Justine joins Packard’s team, the two, of course, begin a love-hate relationship, which veers more to the hate side when Justine discovers that she has become one of Packard’s minions, with no chance of escape.

       BOOK 1: Mind Games       
     In Mind Games, Justine has two other love interests: her normal, human boyfriend, Cubby (who soon disappears from the story), and Otto Sanchez, the hunky police chief, seemingly a good guy (or is he?) who is trying to stop a crime wave in Midcity. Supporting characters are the other disillusionist team members, each with his or her own problems and sad life story. Click HERE to read chapter 1.

       BOOK 2: Double Cross       
     In Double Cross, serial killers threaten Packard, the mayor, and other highcaps, while Justine’s relationships with Otto and Packard take unexpected turns. The ending of Double Cross is definitely a cliffhanger for all three of them. Click HERE to read chapter 1.

     I love this series for its fresh take on the UF theme, its neurotically feisty heroine, and its cast of quirky characters. The whole disillusionist/retribution idea is fascinating, and Crane does an excellent job of portraying both the pros and cons of this world. 

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