I had high hopes for James Dashner’s Eye of Minds. The not-quite-cyberpunk Eye of Minds is the first a new Young Adult series by Dashner who gained some acclaim for his popular Maze Runner series. The novel follows a young gamer named Michael and his friends who spend a lot of time in the VirtNet; a simulated virtual reality. Michael has spent much of his time trying to earn access to a higher level of the VirtNet called Lifeblood Deep. Michael’s life changes after his run-in with a girl in the VirtNet who commits suicide, overriding the VirtNet safeties to actually die seemingly to escape some mysterious figure named Kaine. Shaken by this encounter Michael is soon after contacted by VirtNet Security to track down Kaine; saying no isn’t much of an option. Michael ropes in his friends Bryson and Sarah into the quest and the three set forth to track down the larger-than-life Kaine.
The Eye of Minds feels a bit underdeveloped. The world feels half-drawn and the characters feel a bit flat. I never got a good handle on who precisely Michael and his friends are; particularly outside the VirtNet. In particular, Bryson and Sarah are characters I never quite got a handle on and their relationship with Michael felt like it existed more a plot convenience than a real, organic relationship. With relatively few exceptions the world of The Eye of Minds is left intentionally vague. There are moments, brief flashes of a fascinating and somewhat weird world, particularly once the trio of heroes is on The Path; but there is a sort of generic feel to the world both inside and outside the VirtNet.
Of course it isn’t until the novel’s final chapters that the reason behind some of these vagaries becomes apparent. However, I’m not sure that the twist presented in these chapters does not improve my opinion of the world building in the rest of the novel. Unfortunately, right up until that point the characters are primarily dull and boring. Michael, Bryson and Sarah all exhibit a certain amount of grit and determination but their individual personalities rarely shine through.
Dashner has managed to concoct a rather fascinating mystery throughout the book, and the various set-pieces that make up the major stepping stones in the quest to find Kaine are occasionally interesting (and almost always create an engaging vision), but the lack of characterization means making a human connection to the novel’s characters almost impossible. Given the novel’s final twist (which is a little too nicely telegraphed for my taste) the cardboard characters, particularly in the case of Michael, represent the novel’s greatest failure. This is a shame since with the right amount of characterization The Eye of Minds could have been a highly emotional piece of young adult fiction.
With the young adult fiction market seemingly producing an endless supply of fantasy, dystopian, and paranormal novels the science fiction genre always seems under represented. While I was excited to see a new novel science fiction novel, particularly one that at first glance brushes up against the cyberpunk world (I don’t think The Eye of Minds really counts as a cyberpunk), it is a shame that The Eye of Minds wasn’t as polished and engaging as I had hoped it would be.