Monday, September 4, 2017

Review: Borderline by Mishell Baker

Borderline by Mishell Baker
Published: Saga Press, 2016
Series: Book 1 of the Arcadia Project
Awards Nominated: Nebula, Tiptree, and World Fantasy Awards

The Book:

A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she's sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she'll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble's disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.”

This is the first book I’ve read by Mishell Baker, and I actually got this copy at the Michigan ConFusion Convention, where I even got to see her in some panels!  She seems like an interesting person.

My Thoughts:

In broad strokes, Borderline hits a lot of tropes I associate with the fairy-based urban fantasies, but there are also some things that cause it to stand apart.  The general premise seems quite familiar, following a young human heroine who sparks the interest of the fey, and who is recruited by a secret organization to work sort of like a detective.  The heroine, Millie, breaks the usual mold, though.  Rather than being especially appealing to the fey, the metal in her body has made her an embodiment of their childhood boogeyman.  Millie suffers from borderline personality disorder, and her failed suicide attempt has destroyed her career as a director and left her with two leg prostheses. I thought that her voice seemed very human (disclaimer: I have no experience with BPD or leg prostheses), and I appreciated her frankness about the difficulties her injuries and mental illness cause in her daily life. I think that seeing the world from her perspective--and seeing her awareness of how BPD affects her responses--makes it easy to empathize with her.    

Despite the presence of magic, a parallel world, and fairies, this is not the kind of story where anything can be wished better.  Choices have real, and sometimes permanent, consequences, and there’s no guarantee that everything will work out in the end. Millie, her colleagues at the Arcadia Project, and the even the showfolk and fairies all have flaws or weaknesses that can be exploited. Luckily, the people at the Arcadia Project are also quite competent, and Millie is a highly intelligent protagonist.  This combination makes for an unpredictable and tense story. I genuinely didn’t know whether Millie would solve the case successfully, and whether or not everyone would make it through alive.  In case it is not clear, I loved that about the book, and I loved that the decisions the characters made carried real weight.

Millie starts with what should be a routine assignment, but which turns into a progressively more complicated and dangerous case.  It was a satisfyingly twisty mystery, and I enjoyed watching from behind Millie’s eyes as she worked to unravel the many threads. The supernatural parts of the world were revealed and explained fairly slowly, and I think there’s still plenty to learn about how things work in the sequels.  This first novel does tell a complete story, but it’s also clear that this is the start of a series. While novel establishes the premise of the Arcadia Project and its work with respect to the local fairies, I get the sense that this series is going to be more serial than episodic. Thus, it’s probably a series that should be read in order.  I think I’ll probably continue with this story, and see what’s next in store for Millie.  
My Rating: 4.5 / 5

Borderline is the highly entertaining first novel of an urban fantasy series, which features fairies from a parallel world and the realities of Hollywood in this one.  The main character, Millie, is a talented and driven young woman with a fascinating personality, who is recruited by a secret organization that manages relations between the parallel world and ours.  She begins the novel in a pretty dark place, and soon throws herself into a dangerous case that becomes increasingly complex.  The story was pretty suspenseful, and I liked that the characters were allowed to fail in meaningful ways.  The next book in the series, Phantom Pains, is already out, and I’m planning to get to it at some point!

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