The Thought Readers by Dima Zales

Darren is a young man with the ability to step out of his body into a frozen mock-up of the world called the Quiet. While there, he can manipulate any physical object he desires to gather information, but upon exiting he returns to the real world at the exact moment he left it, and none of the physical changes take hold. Thus, he can explore as much of the world as he want in what amounts to a paused state, reading entire novels and rifling through a hundred people’s pockets in what to us is less than a millisecond. The novel kicks off when he discovers a young woman in an Atlantic City casino who shares this power.

Although the book has an interesting hook and is a snappy read, it feels more like an extended introduction than a full length novel. Too much time gets spent explaining Darren’s powers and fleshing out the world. Besides Darren, none of the characters amount to anything more than shallow caricatures. Finally, the novel reaches an abrupt climax that solidifies the sense that it’s a lengthy introduction to a longer book.

For most of the novel, the reader is either being told how Darren’s powers work, how people with his powers fit into the world, or the motivations and backgrounds of the various characters. It felt like reading a dossier concerning the world rather than a story set within it.

Even when there’s action, it’s constantly broken up by trips to the Quiet. Rather than walking the reader through every one, it would have been more interesting to show us the results without telling us what Darren had learned. He could use the information and then let the reader in on what it was in the first place, or just hint at it. The difference is akin to having Sherlock Holmes tell us exactly how he’s solving a case as he does so, rather than springing it on the reader at the end. As it is, there was never a sense of mystery.

In addition, Darren is the only character with any depth. The story is told from his perspective in the first person, so the reader has ample time to get to know him, and there are some interesting quirks to his character that make the process entertaining. Unfortunately, all of the other characters have neatly assigned roles. There’s a hacker, a love interest, a mad scientist whose job it is to dump more information about how the powers work, etcetera. That’s not a problem on its own, but nothing interesting happens with the characters to make them stand out.

The one that bothered me in particular was Darren’s love interest. She cries, scowls, tantrums, and smart-alecks her way through the book, but never in a way that makes her feel real. Sure, she has a rough past that would stress someone in her position, but her emotional reactions did not feel natural. It was more like the author flicked a switch in the middle of a scene. One moment she would be self-assured, the next nearly in tears over the same event that theoretically toughened her up in the first place.

Finally, there’s the climax. The book ended right at the point that the story had moved past all of the information dumps and started rolling ahead. There’s a kidnapping, a rescue, and a quick twist that, in most books, would mark the end of the introduction. Here, however, it marks a “to be continued” that left me unsatisfied. It was a taste of what the second book will hold, a book that, as set up, I find far more intriguing than the one I read through.

It’s unfortunate that the novel has the issues that it does, because there’s a genuinely entertaining story buried beneath them. It left me wanting more like any good rainy day read should, and I still found the whole setup interesting despite the flaws. That said, I have to give this one a 3/5.

If you want to take a gander, you can pick up a copy from Amazon or Smashwords.