Users of the Mind by S.M. Kois

This mysterious, speculative novel focuses on Julian, a young man who attends a school where a figure called Teacher coaches students on how to read untrained people’s behavior and to influence them using mind tricks and a control over body language and personae. These gifted and highly disciplined students can then utilize their skills to control others. Teacher approaches Julian when one of the world’s most famous scientists comes out of a four-year hiding, and he tells him that throughout his life he has been trained specifically for the purpose of destroying this scientist, Michael Graven. Michael suffered a burn on his face from a fire as a child and wears a mask to hide the horrendous scars, but when Julian meets Michael, he realizes that he is hiding much more than his face.

Set in a future where evolutionary biology, cancer research, and organ transplants have advanced quite far ahead of their present standing, Users of the Mind intertwines cutting-edge science with strongly passionate characters, resulting in a captivating and unique experience. The narrative is intense yet simple, bringing to mind the voice of a sensei or other martial arts instructor. This voice can occasionally come off as a bit cryptic, which results in a portrayal of an often archetypal Teacher, whose lessons and mantras can sometimes be cliché. Michael and Julian assume some cliché characteristics as well, Michael resembling Two-Face from Batman or similar psychopathic/genius characters from comics, and Julian possessing a charming naivety that automatically stages him as the novel’s hero. The setting of the novel—a school with “chosen” students, an enormous mansion where the scientist resides, and a mysterious island where the scientist performs experiments—is also stereotypical. On only one instance did a plot hole make itself evident: sword-fighting a few weeks after a major heart surgery. However, the time frame of the story is vague, leaving readers to allow this incident to pass without too much skepticism.

While the three archetypal characters create a straight-forward plot arc that leaves the reader to feel as though they know what is coming next—and not surprised when what they think will happen does—there are numerous aspects of the book that make it a worthwhile read. In fact, the scientific and mental ingredients mixed together in this novel make it a must-read for mystery, psychological, and medical thriller fans. Kois’s grasp of language is quite magnificent, with beautiful descriptions that capture the setting perfectly. Her skillful and patient writing perfectly evokes the message she set out to convey. 

Thematically, there are plenty of shining gems in this book, like, “I have isolated my anger. It is nothing but an emotion. A pointless physiological reaction to an external event. It will be of no use for me to let it influence me. It will not help me to achieve my goals.” This example of the control the characters are able to assert over themselves is just one of the great techniques that allows for passion—which leads to immense obsession—to develop in these characters, leaking into the reader’s mind and making for a heart-pounding read.

Though on the surface some people may regard the obvious archetypes as an unavoidable downfall, this unfortunate distraction is balanced by the equally weighty revelation of thought-provoking topics, conveyed through Kois’s excellent utilization of her literary skills. Exploring the strength of genetic ties, the power of love and secrecy, the destructiveness of single-minded ambition and obsession, and even the significance of death, Users of the Mind is a magnificent work of science fiction that mirrors great superhero comics and medical thrillers.