I am so in love with this book! As somebody who really doesn’t enjoy Urban Fantasy no matter how much I try, for this book to make it onto my Hugo nominations list is a pretty big deal. But the fact that when I closed the book, I was filled with happiness and hope, is an even bigger deal. It went immediately to my favorites list and although it doesn’t sound like it from the description, it will probably become one of my comfort reads.
by Mishell Baker
Published by: Saga Press, 2016
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: The Arcadia Project #1
My rating: 9/10
First sentence: It was midmorning on a Monday when magic walked into my life wearing a beige Ann Taylor suit and sensible flats.
A cynical, disabled film director with borderline personality disorder gets recruited to join a secret organization that oversees relations between Hollywood and Fairyland in the first book of a new urban fantasy series from debut author Mishell Baker.
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.
As with most books that elicit this much excitement in me, Borderline is amazing in many respects. First of all, it tells a damn good story that made me want to know what happens next after every chapter. Secondly, it makes Urban Fantasy new and interesting again. You don’t need vampires and werewolves and Buffy-esque demons and Mishell Baker proved it. Thirdly, and most importantly, Borderlinehas the most amazing characters.
Millie Roper suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), something I personally knew nothing about before picking up this book. She als lost both her legs in a failed suicide attempt, so you can imagine that doing everyday things is not as easy as it is for an able-bodied person. On an intellectual level, I knew this of course. But reading about all the little things Millie has to think about, all the small situations that I take for granted but which create major stress in Millie’s life, was so fascinating. I wanted to learn more about BPD and about living with a wheelchair and/or prostheses. Mishell Baker manages to talk about these things without slowing down the story one bit, and without preaching. In fact, I found Millie’s personality so engaging, I probably wouldn’t even have been bored if I’d read about her going to the bathroom.
Once she joins the Arcadia Project, Millie is put together with a whole bunch of other people who have mental health issues or physical disabilities. I grew to love most of them and despise others, above all Gloria, who uses fake niceness to insult people and her disability to make sure she gets away with it. Oh, how I wanted Millie to say mean things to her… which, to me, is further proof of Mishell Baker’s talent in writing believable characters. A lesser writer might have written all the disabled characters as perfectly wonderful, kind people (I’m sure there’s a trope about that), but since disabled people are, you know, people, they also come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of assholery. It was precisely for that reason that I ended up liking all of them so much by the end. Even the constantly grumpy ones, the weird ones, the bitchy ones – they felt real and none of them fit into a good/evil type mould.
Another thing I loved was the world building. I avoid Urban Fantasy for the simple reason that, every time I try it, I’m disappointed or bored out of my mind with the same old tropes. And I recognise them as “the same old tropes” even with the limited amount of Urban Fantasy books I’ve read. Imagine what someone who reads more of that sub-genre must feel like. But Mishell Baker managed to make it feel fresh and exciting, to give me new things to discover.
Most impressive was the way the Fae who live secretly among us fit in with our world and interact with us regular humans. Rather than just live in hiding without a reason, Fae have “Echos” in our world, a sort of human soulmate. Now if a Fae and Human Echo find each other, they both benefit greatly. The Fae acquires skills they usually don’t have (rational thinking, mathematics, etc.) and the human has found their muse – which is why the Hollywood setting makes so much sense and explains how some filmmakers seem to only make good movies. It’s a simple idea but it works so damn well! Plus, there are fairy politics and Hollywood shenanigans which were like an added bonus to an already fantastic world. It’s really cool, guys!
But the one thing that made me love this book so very much and rate it so highly was the ending. Baker’s pacing was perfect all along, with tension building constantly throughout the story, twists and turns along the way, and a brilliant climax at the end. But the same goes for Millie’s character arc, which is beautifully done. Nothing about it was heavy-handed or obvious, it’s all in the details and comes to a satisfying conclusion. And although I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, sometime at the end this book started filling me with so much hope that I finished it with a big fat smile on my face, wanting to start all over again. Not many books do that to me anymore, so – at the very least for me – Mishell Baker has created a thing of beauty that I will cherish forever.
MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection!