Reviewed by Chris
TITLE: Read My Mind
SERIES: Under the Empire #1
AUTHOR: Kelly Haworth
PUBLISHER: Riptide Publishing
LENGTH: 294 pages
RELEASE DATE: October 2, 2017
Reading someone’s mind won’t always tell you what they want.
Scott Kensington lives happily without magic; prayer is all he needs to worship the gods. Then he starts his studies at the University of Frannesburg, and not only is he suddenly surrounded by eccentrics—those gifted with magic—but his own latent ability begins to surface, with consequences that could tear his soul and family apart.
Nick Barns is grieving for his lost mother and desperate for distraction—usually in the form of limited-edition action figures. As a telekinetic, he’s no stranger to magic, so he offers to help Scott adjust to his new powers. They quickly learn how their magics interact, their shared passions soon growing beyond superheroes and immortals. But Nick’s not taking his studies seriously, and his father threatens to pull him from the university. Overwhelmed by his own crumbling family, Scott’s convinced he can’t handle a relationship, but he doesn’t want to let Nick go.
With grief, guilt, and magic complicating everything between Nick and Scott, it seems that not even the gods—or a new comic book—can save their relationship now. Sometimes, even reading someone’s mind won’t help you understand what they want.
Raised in a community of “normals”–people without magical gifts–Scott Kensington is in for a bit of a culture shock when he starts university. Everywhere he goes he sees eccentrics–those with magic–wielding fire and manipulating matter thru telekinesis, or hears school-wide ads transferred thru telepathy. But perhaps the biggest change is the lack of worship for the ten gods. Sure there are statues around campus, and churches within walking distance, but the day-to-day presence in his life that he has grown up with isn’t really there anymore. With his family far away, and his life changing in new and startling ways, Scott has to rely on his small group of friends–including the telekinetic Nick Barns who captures more than his fare share of attention–to help navigate a life that has suddenly turned on its head.
To say I have mixed feelings about this story would be pretty accurate. On one hand, I found this world to be filled with quite a few interesting things I would love to know more about. But on the other hand, I kinda want to know more about them because not knowing made this book a rather frustrating read.
When I started this book I was sure it was going to be straight fantasy–one with no connection to Earth. But it becomes clear soon after the beginning that this story takes place on Earth, just in some alternate timeline. Which is fine, except…it never really wanted to define that timeline.
The country (empire?)…um, place they live in is ruled by an Empire style government. But that is pretty much all I know about that. I have no idea where this book is set, where the Empire came from, why Scott thinks the Empire is so horrible. Nothing. It is all extremely vague, and constantly left me with a sense of confusion and doubt that made it hard to really get into this story. The story kinda wanted me to have this fear of the government finding out certain things that happen in this story, but I was never sure why I should care. There are protests or something going on somewhere, but it is never stated why they happen. Simply expecting me to go, “oh no, not the Empire!” just because it is not a democracy or some such thing is a bit ridiculous. Maybe it gets fleshed out later in the series, but if you wanted me to have some type of emotional response in this one, you have to give at least something more than they act like every government ever created.
And while I do like the use of the polytheistic religion in this book–and the utter lack of Christianity which is something I rarely come across and liked a lot–it tended to spend a huge chunk of this book just talking about the gods but not really explaining at all where this religion came from, how long it has been around, why it seems to be the one dominating religion in the world. I don’t need and entire book solely telling me where the religion plays into the world, but I had a hard time trying to mesh my sense of Earth with this Alternate-Earth, and it was, at best, frustrating. And pretty much why I wish this story had simply taken place in some other world entirely.
There is also the fact that I have a lot of baggage related to religion. It probably did not help here at all, to be honest. Because this book really does a good job of hitting all those “religious people” notes that I know from growing up, and it kinda triggers a part of my brain that is automatically set up to go “fuck that!” Which isn’t the books fault. And my constant state of agitation reading this has an impact on my overall feelings, which kinda sucks. But I don’t really know how to separate that from what I feel for the rest of the story.
I do know that the story’s tendency to spend a lot of time describing what amounts to the equivalent of Bible stories to be rather boring–and since they were tied into Nick’s whole comic obsession, that didn’t help at all. I found Scott’s breakdown over his parent’s relationship to be a tad melodramatic. The romance between Nick and Scott felt too surface level, and definitely too YA for my tastes.
Pretty much on every level this book was just not for me. It over described the things that didn’t seem terribly important to the main plot. Under described the setting, making the story exist in some weird quasi-unfinished state. The characters had to act in over dramatic fashion in order for there to be a climax. And the whole thing about the Empire finding out ended up being nothing more than a shoulder shrug.
For all that this had a great premise, and a lot of workable and interesting parts, the finished product I found to be a bit too much of a mess to hold my attention for any length of time.