Justine knows she’s going to die. Any second now.
Justine Jones has a secret. A hardcore hypochondriac, she’s convinced a blood vessel is about to burst in her brain. Then, out of the blue, a startlingly handsome man named Packard peers into Justine’s soul and invites her to join his private crime-fighting team. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime. With a little of Packard’s hands-on training, Justine can weaponize her neurosis, turning it outward on Midcity’s worst criminals, and finally get the freedom from the fear she’s always craved. End of problem.
Or is it? In Midcity, a dashing chief of police is fighting a unique breed of outlaw with more than human powers. And while Justine’s first missions, one against a nymphomaniac husband-killer, are thrilling successes, there is more to Packard than meets the eye. Soon, while battling her attraction to two very different men, Justine is plunging deeper into the world of wizardry, eroticism and cosmic secrets. With Packard’s help, Justine has freed herself from madness – only to discover a reality more frightening than anyone’s worst fears.
November’s main pick for Vaginal Fantasy is a bit of a slow starter, and I found myself actually wishing for a bit more exposition in order to establish the world in which these books take place. The concept of the trilogy is so clever, though, and I was very quickly hooked, to the point where I couldn’t stop after the first book (which is quite frequently the case with the VF books), but read the whole series in less than a week.
The books are set in Midcity, an urban fantasy city that reminds me a lot of Chicago. There are some people with special powers, known as highcaps, who can do everything from move objects with their minds, manipulate matter, invade people’s dreams or psychologically manipulate their victims. There are some who suggest that the highcaps are just an urban legend, but as more and more people are dying from bricks flying out of nowhere, it seems very likely that highcaps exist and are very dangerous. Midcity is in the midst of a crime wave, and handsome new police chief Otto Sanchez seems to be the only one willing to try to make a change.
Justine is not a highcap, she’s a neurotic young woman whose mother died of a particular kind of aneurysm, called a vein star, and Justine is convinced this is what’s going to kill her too. She gets panic attacks at the most inconvenient moments and has spent a small fortune going to doctors and the emergency room when she’s convinced she’s near death. It’s putting serious strain on her relationship with her boyfriend, who just wants her to get over her irrational fears. So when she meets the mysterious Packard while at a Mongolian restaurant and he claims that unless she accepts his help, her fear is leading her on a rapid path into crippling insanity. He says he can teach her to channel her fears into other people, using it as a weapon to destabilise them. Justine scoffs at this idea, but can’t quite put the idea out of her mind. She returns to the restaurant, and Packard introduces her to some of the other Disillusionists who work for him. He has a secret, private group of vigilantes, who use their powers to psychologically bring criminals towards rock bottom, forcing them to change their ways and minds. They can channel rage, ennui, addiction, gambling problems and the like and Packard thinks Justine could be an invaluable asset because of her health fears.
Once the Disillusionists “zing” their worst impulses into their victims, they themselves are free of them for up to a month and feel great as a result. However, according to Packard, they can’t just go around channelling their fears or rage or cravings into anyone, or the psychic backlash could kill them. Packard is a highcap with unique psychological insight into everyone he meets and this allows him to see exactly how they can be broken down, or whether they can. He alone also seems immune to the “zings” of the various Disillusionists, allowing them to channel even when there isn’t a suitable criminal that needs taking down. This allows him to show Justine just how good it can feel when she gets rid of her crazy health fears. She agrees to help him, as she is loving the normal life she is suddenly able to enjoy with her boyfriend, free of anxiety and stress, but she is only intending to do it short term, not comfortable with the moral implications of psychologically attacking people, even criminals.
Then she discovers that Packard is quite ruthless in achieving his goals. One of the other Disillusionists is surprised when Justine claims she’s only part of their little team for a short while. It seems that once they start “zinging” others, their brain chemistry is gradually altered and if they suddenly stop, they’re going to be overwhelmed by the very negative impulses they have gotten used to channelling and will end up in a vegetative state. Packard didn’t tell Justine because he, very correctly, knew she’d never agree to join up if she knew. He isn’t just destabilising criminals from the kindness of his heart, he makes a lot of money from people these criminals wronged, and his ultimate endgame is revenge against the individual who trapped him in the very restaurant Justine first met him. For more than eight years, Packard has been unable to leave the place. He’s also unable to change the decor, or the menu and if things get destroyed, they’re back the way they were before the very next day. Justine, who during her training has grown more and more attracted to Packard, is appalled and swears that she will figure out a way to be free of his manipulative control. She and the other Disillusionists can’t really help themselves from trying to figure out exactly who trapped their boss, and how they can work together to free him.
Review for books two and three and my opinion of the whole series here.