Book Review: Borderline by Mishell Baker

10 Mar

 

Millie is broken, and perhaps not still good. But she is trying. Having lost her filmmaking career and her legs in a failed suicide attempt a year ago, her path back to a stable life has been a tough one. When Caryl Vallo from the Arcadia Project offers Millie a position, things are even more complicated. For the Arcadia Project, in the manner of the Men In Black, keeps track of the visitors to Earth not from space, but from the Fairyland next door. And Millie’s past problems and current nature are not a problem, but rather a selling point to the organization. Even as a simple sample assignment goes haywire, Millie learns that she is not the only person with issues in the Arcadia Project. But can Millie rise above these challenges before the fallout from that simple assignment causes problems that will extend far beyond her life, or even Tinseltown?

Borderline is the debut novel from Mishell Baker.

borderline-9781481429788_hrA character with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) makes for an uncommon protagonist in fantasy fiction. A house full of characters with their own issues is a striking choice for the author. It works on many levels. While Millie is our protagonist, our point of view character and our lens as the newbie into the world of the Arcadia Project, she does not stick out as the one different character amongst a group of characters who are not so differently abled in a mental sense. This technique means that we can experience and see Millie’s point of view, and her life, without it being completely othered because all of those around her are on a more conventional and average scale. As a result, paradoxically, it means that Millie comes across as a stronger character, and it is not so easy to ignore, forget or background who and what she is.

As far as the story itself goes, the standard trope of a secret connection to the supernatural (and a Fairyland at that) is something that is relatively common in urban fantasy, although the author provides some twists and fillips of her own to make the concept hers. I was reminded a little bit of Jodi McIsaac’s Thin Veil novels in exploring how the denizens of Fairyland, in their complexity and their plans and schemes, bleed over into the modern world. Having the fae be intimately mixed in with Hollywood is a natural. Having recently seen Hail, Caesar!, I can completely believe a denizen or three of the Seelie Court being someone that Eddie Mannix would have to come to grips with, and manage on set back in the 1950s. The wild world of modern filmmaking, as presented here, is even more poignantly suited to the Fae.

Borderline is not an easy read, and usually I don’t like being pushed out of my comfort zone so thoroughly and completely as the author managed to do with Millie’s story. Given my own history and nature, the buttons Millie presses, on others, and on herself, felt extremely familiar. I had to read the book slowly in some parts, with a part of me wanting to painfully push through the book at the same time. In the same way that Emma Newman managed in Planetfall, exploring characters differently abled when it comes to mental issues, without any veneer or varnish, raw and unflinching, makes Borderline a book definitely not for everyone to read and enjoy. It’s funny, it’s painful, it’s poignant, and above all, it’s well written.

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