The Eye of Minds


Author: James Dashner

Publication: 2013, Delacorte

Pages: 320

Overall Rating:

Rating for Action:

Quantity of Action:

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Michael lives most of his life in the VertNet.  He enters his Coffin – a box designed to protect his physical body while he roams the virtual net – and hangs there with his two best friends, Sarah and Bryson, playing games and racking up experience points.  If they get killed in the game, they feel the pain, but moments later they’re lifted back to the Wake and returned to their physical bodies unharmed.  All that changes the day Michael witnesses a true suicide in Vert Net, and hears the stranger’s mysterious warnings about a hacker named Kaine.  Soon after, he’s picked up by agents of VertNet Security and given an offer he can’t refuse – track down Kaine or lose access to the VertNet forever.  With help from Bryson and Sarah, Michael enters the dark underbelly of the VertNet where they are forced to battle deadly opponents, search for portals, and hack the Code all in effort to reach one of the deepest levels of the Net.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: This is a fantastic read for hardcore gamers.  It takes place almost entirely inside a virtual world, where Michael and his friends have to battle hardened soldiers, fight demons, and travel through the heart of a volcano, all while solving puzzles, finding portals, and hacking code.  And while, for the most part, they are able to remember that it’s not real, there are times when the reality of the situation almost overwhelms that knowledge, and the virtual world and real world seem to bleed together.

One nice thing about setting the book in a virtual world like this is that Dashner has essentially free reign to throw anything he wants at his characters.  There are no real world limits on what they might have to overcome in order to survive, and the landscape on which they’re operating can and does change in an instant, which keeps the story rushing along at a breakneck pace.

What I Liked the Least: While there are a lot of advantages to setting a book like this in a virtual world, there’s a major drawback, too.  For most of the book, if Michael or his friends die they simply return to life in the Wake.  As they delve deeper into the Net the stakes go up – if they die their journey is over, they’ll never be able to make up all the distance they’ve lost.  But still – the fact that their deaths aren’t real does take away an important an important element of tension in the story.

For me, some of that tension was also lost because I just couldn’t bring myself to care that much about the stakes.  If the fail, VertNet Security will destroy their auras, basically making it impossible for them to use the VertNet again.  I  get that entering the VertNet is their life – that everything in their world is based around it – but I still found it hard to get too worked about that.

The other thing that bothered me – and this was fairly minor – was that Michael and his friends spend a great deal of time hacking and coding – and coding is a tactic they use to get out of more than one hot spot.  But I never felt like I really understood what coding meant here, and I’m not sure Dashner entirely did either. They just close their eyes, observe the lines of code all around them, and manipulate it with their minds – or something like that anyway.  A central as it is to the story, I wish Dashner could have made the process a bit more real.

How Good was the Action? Decent. There are some fairly gruesome fights and good chase scenes, and the pace at times can get pretty frenetic.  In fact, I think the action have been quite good in places if it weren’t for the nagging fact that at the end of the day I knew it wasn’t real, and that the consequences of failure weren’t real either.  Like I said, that drained a lot of the potential tension out of things.

How Engaging was the Story? I actually got caught up in the story more than I expected too, given the lack of any real stakes.  The virtual journey Michael and his friends go on can be pretty daunting, and the scenes change so often that the pace keeps you rushing along.  The characters are paper thin, there’s not a whole lot of growth that takes place, and, as I said, the stakes leave something to be desired, but the story still has a way of getting under your skin and providing a decent diversion on a summer afternoon.

Overall Assessment:  A fun glimpse into a future where gamers are able to experience the ultimate in virtual reality.  It’s a light, faced-paced read that will hold a special appeal to gamers as it really does read very much like a sophisticated video game put into words.

Profanity: None.

Sex: None.

Violence:  A fair bit.  Michael and his friends are forced into a particularly gruesome game where the combatants literally try to tear each other apart with little more than knives and their bare hands.  It may not be real, and they may emerge unscathed from each death, but the sheer blood and brutality traumatizes Michael and his friends and is presented in fairly graphic fashion.

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