Eternally hopeful: Mishell Baker – Phantom Pains

It’s no secret that I usually steer away from Urban Fantasy. But that only means the type of Urban Fantasy with scantily clad women on the cover, usually looking over their shoulder, carrying some kind of weapon, and with the title written over their wrapped-in-leather butt. But Mishell Baker makes Urban Fantasy so much fun! Even with the most broken (literally) heroine you can imagine, The Arcadia Project series takes you on wild adventures and leaves you just hopeful of the future, whatever it may bring.

PHANTOM PAINS
by Mishell Baker

Published by: Saga Press, 2017
Ebook: 416 pages
Series: The Arcadia Project #2
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: Here’s the thing about PTSD: it doesn’t understand the rules.

Four months ago, Millie left the Arcadia Project after losing her partner Teo to the lethal magic of an Unseelie fey countess. Now, in a final visit to the scene of the crime, Millie and her former boss Caryl encounter Teo’s tormented ghost. But there’s one problem: according to Caryl, ghosts don’t exist.

Millie has a new life, a stressful job, and no time to get pulled back into the Project, but she agrees to tell her side of the ghost story to the agents from the Project’s National Headquarters. During her visit though, tragedy strikes when one of the agents is gruesomely murdered in a way only Caryl could have achieved. Millie knows Caryl is innocent, but the only way to save her from the Project’s severe, off-the-books justice is to find the mysterious culprits that can only be seen when they want to be seen. Millie must solve the mystery not only to save Caryl, but also to foil an insidious, arcane terrorist plot that would leave two worlds in ruins.

Millie Roper has a job, regular therapy sessions, and her life mostly under control. After her adventures with the Arcadia Project, a bit of routine seems like just the thing to make her forget what she’s seen, and who she’s lost. But – as stories go – she is dragged back into Arcadia business soon enough where she has to fix a whole new mess. And of course she wouldn’t be Millie if she didn’t add an extra layer of messiness to an already difficult situation. But that’s exactly what makes these books so much fun.

Phantom Pains picks up only a few months after the end of Borderline and while Millie is still struggling with her old demons and disablities (prosthetic legs, BPD, plus the newly-added PTSD), she is still the Millie I fell in love with. The hopeful one who knows herself all too well and doubts her every emotion, but believes in herself when it counts. She combines intelligence, humor, and pragmatism in the most sympathetic way and I hope I’ll get to read many more books featuring her. If more Urban Fantasy progatonists were like Millie, I’d actually read the damn things.

But Millie’s life has changed in another major way since we last saw her. She knows and is in contact with her Echo, Claybriar, and as much as I love their relationship, it is super complicated! If, after her suicide attempt, Millie hadn’t been put together with metal screws and plates, she wouldn’t be Ironbones – basically poison to the fey but also WHAT A COOL NAME. Touching Claybriar, which she desperately wants to do, hurts him and also makes his facade disappear, showing him for the faun he really is. To say that their relationship is interesting is a huge understatement. Add to that the fact that they both sleep with other people (non-romantically), plus Millie’s complex relationship with Caryl, and you’ve got the makings of a thrilling story, even without the added crazy magic.

This book advances a lot more than just Millie as a character, though. The entire world of the Arcadia Project opens up, introducing us to the head of the Project herself, as well as some very high up people from Arcadia. I had a blast getting to know these new characters and learning more about the world Baker has created. It’s always appreciated when it’s not just vampires and werewolves but anything else. And if that anything is internally consistent and has some sort of magic-logic to it, all the better.  There are also some huge revelations to do with this particular magic that turn the entire world upside down but which I can’t go into detail because spoilers. But let me tell you, I had a really stupid look on my face when I read that chapter, and I felt about as confused and lost as Millie did.

One thing about side characters: I absolutely loved loved loved Brand! If this book went my way, there would have been an additional 50 chapters, all involving Brand, preferably in combination with Tjuan. He added a weird but delightful sense of humor to the horrible things that were going on. You know, fate of the world at stake and all that, but at least I can laugh about and with Brand. Tjuan was already there in the first book but I really liked how we finally learn a bit more about him and how his character gets more depth. The same goes for Claybriar and Caryl. I don’t want to spoil anything here but even characters that don’t show up a lot feel like real people.

The diversity in this series is amazing! There’s Millie to start with, but everyone working for the Arcadia Project usually has some sort of disability or disorder. In addition, there is an Indian woman and a trans man, and (because I know someone is going to say it) it’s not ticking off diversity points from a list. It feels organic and normal and wonderful simply because the characters are all different, and all in different ways. Whether it’s a schizophrenic POC, or an Indian straight woman, or a bisexual woman with Borderline Personality Disorder, these feel like real people to me and I want to get to know every single one of them better. Even the dicks.

The plot was – just as I expected – always entertaining, never shying away from unexpected twists and turns, maybe even more action-packed than in the previous book without sacrificing character development. Pretty amazing, right? The ending was both great and terrifying, because I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next book, and (if you couldn’t tell already) I’ve come to really care about these characters. However, I am now in for the long haul, and hope that Mishell Baker gets the chance to write at least 10 more Arcadia books. Buy this book, people! You know you want to.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Damn excellent!

Related links:

Save

Save

Mishell Baker – Borderline

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.

borderlineBORDERLINE
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.

No pressure.

divider1

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.

borderline-detail

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!

divider1

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save