My favourite uncomfortable world to date is described in Carolyn Crane’s Disillusionist trilogy. I admit, in life and in reading I like to know the rules, and this world had me off-balance from the beginning. The entire time I was reading I felt like I was wearing my shoes on the wrong feet, or sporting 3D glasses instead of my normal prescription. And I mean that as a compliment.

Though the blurb for Mind Games accurately frames the novel, everything felt off from the beginning. The restaurant, characters, city, situation were all just enough different from modern American life that I couldn’t quite predict what would happen next, or what the rules might be.  On panels at Authors After Dark, Crane explained that she likes including little details to make the world richer, as a reader I certainly noticed this in her novels. For example, in describing the complicated roadways of Midcity, she takes something familiar but makes it just strange enough to remind the reader we are in a different world and we can’t assume our rules apply. Her descriptions of disillusioning someone also twists something we experience, changing moods as we interact with others, and provides an alternate, darker, explanation for why this might happen.

As Justine, the protagonist of Mind Games, learns more about disillusioning people the rules and her role are explained to her-and thus to the reader-but does she really know what is going on? Do we? I kept reading because I believed that Crane knew what she was up to, and would tell us what we needed to know, when we needed to know it. Though the third book is not yet released (or titled!), in the first two Crane has balanced information with mystery very well, thus my feeling of wearing shoes on the wrong foot-but in a good way.  If nothing is explained, everything is a lie, or I feel the author is toying with me just because she can, I can’t get comfortable in a story; Instead I was willing to let Crane take the wheel and guide me through her world. As a friend pointed out to me, “mind games” doesn’t just apply to disillusioning, or Justine’s situation in the novel, but to the author/reader relationship as well. Overall I feel my trust was well earned.

In Double Cross, readers are double-crossed, but I did not feel misled or betrayed by the author; Within the context of exploring morality and Justine’s questions about her role as part of Packard’s disillusioning crew the plot makes sense. My metaphor for this book is: thinking I’m about to drink a glass of milk, only to discover it’s orange juice. Both are tasty, and though the difference is a surprise, I will keep on drinking.

Midcity may put some people off because there aren’t shortcuts to figuring out what is going on. In many Urban Fantasy novels there are quick reference points to get the reader started: This book is about Vampires and Assassins, I will read in order to find out how this author has tweaked the roles to make it uniquely her own; or This book is about figures from Celtic mythology walking around in modern America. It may be that I’ve missed an entire grouping of UF novels that play with projecting one’s hypochondria in to another person in order to reform criminals, if so I am glad I encountered the disillusionists first.  Readers who enjoy exploring the unfamiliar and uncertain, who don’t mind getting comfy in the uncomfortable, and who love characters with layers (parfait? onion?) should definitely give this trilogy a try. Start soon, the third novel is soon to be released by Samhain! (ooh, and audible too, if goodreads is to be believed).

(apologies for potential semicolon misuse-it’s the devil’s punctuation)