Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White
I knew Mind Games was going to be a far cry from Kiersten White’s fabulously fun Paranormalcy series. It’s darker and grittier, and nearly impossible to compare to her earlier books, but I would say I had just as much fun reading it. Mind Games is a quick, entertaining story with a badass femme fatale, a touching sister relationship, and plenty of action and danger to overcome.
Here are a few reasons Mind Games was so much fun for me:
Mind Games shares a bit of book DNA with Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me and Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds, two of my favorite books with superpowered X-Men style kids. Fia and Annie are two sisters who each possess a psychic gift that makes them of tremendous value to a “school” for girls with unusual abilities. This is not Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters; it’s a much darker, devious place, full of (female only) mind readers, empaths and seers whose gifts are honed and then manipulated. Those students whose powers develop to the school’s satisfaction move on to a life of privilege and espionage, and those who don’t get the boot.
While I think shooting fire out of your fingers and crushing through reinforced steel with your fist is super cool, I sort of love that the powers in this book are all in the mind. Maybe it seems more plausible to me that people might actually begin using the other 90% of their brain, and start seeing/hearing/feeling things that most of us gloss over. It was interesting to see the seers, empaths and mind readers manipulating each other and ratting each other out to school authorities, and you have to wonder how many gifted girls have wavering allegiances. The stage is set for what I hope will be a clever battle of superwits in future books.
I don’t think you need to have a sister to understand that peculiar blend of frustration and fierce love that Fia and Annie show for each other (though it helps). There are times when they each wish they weren’t tied so closely together, because they are each other’s greatest weakness when they’re in danger, but they never stop loving and wanting the best for one another. Keane, the shadowy man in charge of their school, knows how to play the sisters’ loyalties perfectly, and we gradually come to understand how Annie and Fia went from hopeful students at a prestigious school to desperate prisoners. Fia does horrible things to protect her sister, and Annie reciprocates, in the only way she can. While I’m not sure I would go to Fia’s lengths, I can empathize with the impulse to do anything necessary to protect the ones you love.
Fia, the Super Spy
Fia’s gift is unique at the Keane School—she has perfect instincts. Which means she knows when someone is sneaking up on her, when she should duck, which direction she should run, and best of all, when someone is lying. Fia is the perfect choice for doing dirty deeds that require quick instincts, so she’s pretty much an incredibly talented assassin/spy. This means any scene with Fia is about two seconds from exploding into comic book movie action.
Romance (yes it’s a love triangle but it’s not annoying)
Fia has two guys come into her life in the course of the novel who could be love interests, but somehow this didn’t feel like a traditional love triangle. Perhaps because choosing between the guys is really a side effect of a much larger decision. These guys represent completely different lives Fia might have—in one Fia continues to use her power to achieve dangerous ends, and the other, she’ll strive to be a normal girl whose past deeds don’t define her. Both romantic choices have an element of the forbidden about them, and one emerges as a favorite for me, mostly because I still don’t really know what he’s thinking or up to. I hope for future enlightenment, but I’m enjoying the romantic tension in the meantime.
A few quibbles:
Mind Games is a lightning quick read, and most times that’s a lovely thing (especially when your TBR pile is frighteningly large), but I actually would have preferred more story in this book. It’s is a very broad, albeit entertaining, sketch of the dangerous world Fia and Annie have inhabited ever since they were recruited into the Keane School. There is so much room for additional plot and character development, and it could have been a much richer story that stands on its own. As it is, it feels like a first book, very TBC.
I think the alternating POV’s combined with flashbacks worked for the most part, but a bit more precision and restraint with the flashbacks would have made the story tighter. Sometimes I read a flashback and wondered why we popped back at that moment, and what we really learned.
Also, I hate to say it, but Annie is an infinitely less interesting character than Fia. Her power isn’t unique, and she never really overomes her role as a pawn in a much larger game. I’d love to see her step up and become more of a player in her own right, unrelated to Fia, especially since half the book is devoted to her perspective.
Mind Games feels like the pilot of an Alias style show. I’m hooked on the story, I got some killer action sequences and a bit of vicarious badassery and romance, but it feels like there is still so much to come. It’s a solid introduction to a series that hopefully builds more on this cool premise.
Watch the trailer: