A guest review by Jenre
Superb world building and an engaging story were slightly spoiled by a narrative style which was at times a little confusing.
Jonathan Hatcher has led an interesting life. Once the psychic protégé of Dr. Nelson Cagney of the Bureau of Psychological Corrections, he escaped and went on the run through post-World War Three Europe, scraping a living out of the ruins of civilization and avoiding the mindless vics: humans turned berserker by exposure to biological and chemical weapons.
Once again at Cagney’s mercy, Jonathan is stuck in PsyCo’s high-security wing with no idea whether Sam, the man he thinks he may love, is alive or dead by his hand. Though at first he only plays along for news of Sam, soon Jonathan sees the conditions in the warring European Coalition are desperate. Sam and Jonathan must make a choice: make for France and a life together… or team up with their captors against a devastating new threat.
I’m a big fan of Cari Z.’s writing and was really pleased when I found out that this novel was being published. Most of her other works are in short story form and I was interested to see whether she could sustain as story over a longer format. Her writing has always appealed to me being both engaging and with a lovely flow. That same strength in the writing is still present in A Blinded Mind, as is a story which is strong on character and setting. However, some of the choices in the narrative style meant that the plot was a little choppy, as I’ll go on to explain later.
The story is set in a post-apocalyptic future where war and WMD have laid waste to many parts of the world and people struggle to survive in a world where food and money are scarce. Living outside the walls of a city is almost impossible because of packs of wild dogs and insane people who are infected with a virus which makes them attack and kill those who are not infected. As the story starts, psychic Jonathan is recaptured after 10 years of freedom. As a child he was recognised as a strong psychic and taken to an institution, PsyCo, where he was imprisoned as possibly dangerous and his abilities were used to test the latest drugs. After escaping, he lived out of the spotlight of PsyCo before an error of judgement brings US agent Sam to his hideout. The pair spend a few weeks together until sickness forces Jonathan’s hand and when the soldiers arrive for him, he gives Sam, and therefore himself up. Now he’s imprisoned again with no way of knowing whether Sam is alive or not.
Let me start by saying what didn’t quite work for me, and may also be off-putting for some readers. The story does not have a conventional linear pattern to it, which makes the narrative structure interesting and allows information about Jonathan’s childhood, his relationship with Sam and the circumstances which led to his second imprisonment, to be given to the reader in a way that avoided dumping information. However, it also meant that there were a number of flashbacks and that the story jumped around a lot. This gave it a disjointed feel at times and I sometimes found it difficult to adjust to the new time period or to understand what was happening straight away. If that was the only technique used then I think I could have adjusted to the narrative fairly quickly, but the author used another technique to pass information to the reader. Whilst Sam is whiling away the long and lonely hours of imprisonment he makes up conversations in his head with Sam. These conversations last for a number of pages and are the primary way of giving information to the reader about Sam, Jonathan’s involvement with Sam and some background on what Jonathan did with his 10 years of freedom. In some ways I can see why the author did this. It’s better to give information through dialogue than in huge passages of info-dump, but most of the time these ‘conversations’ were happening I couldn’t get past the idea that this was all just going on in Jonathan’s head. Sort of like he was talking to himself. It left me feeling a bit odd and disconnected with what was happening on the page, plus it meant that more time is spent between ‘imaginary’ Sam and Jonathan than with ‘real’ Sam and Jonathan. It was a brave move by the author to use this as a way of finding out more about Jonathan and Sam, but in the end it didn’t work too well for me.
What did work, though, was the excellent imaginative world building in the story. The whole set up with the psychic abilities and their use in National defense was well constructed and thoughtful. The post apolcalyptic world was chillingly realistic in its depiction of life both inside the ‘safe’ cities and in the wilds where no sane man would consider venturing. It said much about Jonathan an his abilities that he was able to survive for so long, isolated and alone in a place where danger lurks around every corner.
As a character, Jonathan had a delightful complexity. He is essentially a good man who has had his abilities used against him, and yet still retains that core of morality which sets him apart from some of the monstrous people he encounters in the book. The book shone for me in the way that we are shown how conflicted Jonathan is, he has a tremendous amount of power at his disposal but only uses it when he is directly threatened or to save others. This made him highly sympathetic and I was genuinely interested in him as a character and his story. This went a long way to my enjoyment of the book and counteracted some of the difficulties I had with the narrative form.
There were many other things I liked about the story such as Jonathan’s sweet and tender romance with Sam; his touching relationship with Tai, a fellow prisoner; and the end of the story which was graphic and slightly shocking but retained a hopeful note for the future. The ending to the story is rather open, and I’m hoping this means that we get to see more of these characters and in particular more development of the relationship between Sam and Jonathan.
Overall, I had mixed feelings about the story but thought that the setting and characterisation made up for the weaknesses in the narrative form and, as such, I could happily recommend A Blinded Mind.