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Borderline (The Arcadia Project) Paperback – March 1, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Millie Roper has been at the Leishman Psychiatric Center in Los Angeles for more than six months, having checked herself in after a failed suicide attempt that resulted in the loss of her right leg. She's visited by a woman who wants to recruit her for something called the Arcadia Project, which she describes as a nonprofit employment project partially funded by the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, but refuses to provide any more details unless Millie meets her the following day. Intrigued, Millie packs up her belongings (wheelchair, crutches, cane, prosthetic limb, and suitcase) and takes a cab to the designated location. Thus begins a roller-coaster ride through Los Angeles and environs, as Millie is tasked with locating a missing actor. What she doesn't realize until she's well into the case is that fairies and other magical creatures live among the residents of her reality and that one needs only a special pair of sunglasses to be able to see them. Millie is a delight—outspoken to the point of rudeness, with a wry wit and (despite her history) a healthy sense of self-preservation. The supporting characters are a motley crew, all with physical or mental issues of some kind and of varying ethnic backgrounds, and the story is an entertaining mix of fantasy and mystery noir. VERDICT Most comparable to Jim Butcher's "Dresden Files," this should appeal to his fans as well as followers of Charles de Lint and MaryJanice Davidson.—Marlyn K. Beebe, Los Alamitos, CA --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Borderline is worldbuilding at its most original...I loved this book." (Charlaine Harris, New York Times bestselling author of DEAD UNTIL DARK)
"Smart, snappy, fast, fantastic. You will not be sorry you read this." (Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author of the October Daye series)
"A fast-paced story of high costs laced with humor that goes from light-hearted to scathing with the flip of a coin...navigates the borderlands of friendship and enmity, trust and betrayal, with shrewd and unrelenting grace." (NPR)
* "Fully articulated, flawed, and fascinating characters combine with masterly urban fantasy storytelling in Baker’s debut novel... [a] beautifully written story that is one part mystery, one part fantasy, and wholly engrossing." (Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW)
* "Baker’s debut takes gritty urban fantasy in a new direction with flawed characters, painful life lessons, and not a small amount of humor." (Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW)
"An enjoyable fantasy mystery that tackles physical disability and mental illness without sacrificing diverting, fast-paced storytelling." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Baker’s consistent, caring integration of the realities of disability into the narrative, makes Borderline one of the most purely respectful portrayals of people with disabilities that I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and that in turn makes it an excellent launch to a very promising urban fantasy series." (Publishers Weekly STAFF PICK)
"Baker has crafted a swift, delightful, and complex beginning to your next favorite urban fantasy series, very nearly redefining the genre along the way...an unabashed pleasure cruise, filled to the brim with snappy dialogue, smart character choices, behind-the-scenes Hollywood shenanigans, and delightful fish-out-of-water moments." (B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy blog)
"Mishell Baker’s new Arcadia Project series is off to a thrilling and glamorous start with Borderline...Baker has given her audience urban fantasy at its finest—visceral and real in its sense of space, and dancing on the uncanny edges of our vision...Borderline is dark and creeping and smart as a whip." (Tor.com)
"Borderline [is] a strange, fast-paced, and surprisingly dark tale about magic, madness and mystique...Despite the engaging plot, Millie’s character, and the complexities in the characters around her made the book a real page-turner for me...Immensely riveting, with unexpected influxes of depth." (MuggleNet.com)
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Living voluntarily in a psychiatric treatment facility after recovering from her fall, Millie is startled when a well-dressed stranger, Caryl Vallo, visits and offers her an ill-defined form of employment if she will leave the facility and move into a residence run by the mysterious Arcadia Project. Millie chances accepting Caryl’s offer and soon learns that the Project’s job is attempting to manage relations between the Fey (as it is spelled here) and the human world, which some of the fairy folk choose to live in for extended periods—in this case, the section of that world that comprises Hollywood. (That would explain a lot about the movie capital.) She also learns that the Project likes to employ mentally ill people as its human agents, so it’s no surprise that the other five dwellers in the residence are as screwed up as she is.
I particularly liked two things about this book. The first was the characters; Millie, Caryl, Teo, and the others are complex, interesting, and appealing. The second was the steady way in which the author fed in a great deal of information about complicated subjects such as the nature of borderline personality disorder (not likely to be as familiar to most readers as, say, bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder), the rules governing the relations between Fey and humans, and the care and operation of prosthetic legs. I can’t judge the accuracy of the information, but it was consistent and “felt right.” The writing was well handled, too. For instance, Millie (who narrates the book) says:
“Most Borderlines are virtually incapable of a sincere apology. Tell a Borderline she has hurt you and she responds with a list of ways you’ve hurt her worse. Why? Because in a ‘split’ world, someone has to wear the black hat, and for a person with suicidal tendencies, avoiding guilt is quite literally a matter of life and death.”
I was glad to see signs that the author is planning further books about the Arcadia Project, and some threads were left dangling in preparation for that, but the story in this book was well wrapped up, which is not always the case when sequels are in the works. I will look forward to reading the sequels when they appear.
Page by page, I found "Borderline" a quick, engaging, intelligent read. Yet, when I paused, I found it slightly less than the sum of its parts. Between reading sessions, I wasn't drawn back to the book and its characters. Millie, the protagonist, wasn't deeply attached to other people. Perhaps as a result, I wasn't deeply attached to her. (The character who intrigued me most was Teo, not Millie.)
It is a mark of the book's quality that it kept me happily entertained even though I am not the target audience. I usually prefer secondary-world high fantasy to contemporary urban fantasy. And I very rarely enjoy fairies/fey in books. Elves yes, fairies no. This book managed to overcome my prejudices.
A really solid debut urban fantasy with a heroine with Borderline Personality Disorder. The author has the same disorder, and it’s integral to the character. As a whole, the book is very character-driven– Millie, our protagonist, has a very strong and sarcastic voice, and since her perceptions of others are often unreliable, many reversals and reveals in their characterizations come naturally.
My favorite character was the amazingly brave Caryl. What Baker does with her characterization is something that can only be done in fantasy. Caryl, deeply traumatized by her childhood, splits her emotions off magically into a small, invisible pet dragon when she’s working. So we see her both in the grip of her emotions and artificially separated from them. Caryl believes that her rationally-set priorities are more “her” than her emotions, which Millie doesn’t agree with.
The magic system is for the most part generic, the usual bits of Irish and Scottish fairy mythologies set in a modern day city. The notable differences are a) the concept of Echoes, fey and human soulmate pairs, driven by artistic inspiration rather than romance, and b) the fact that class differences among the fey are taken seriously, rather than the Court structures being window-dressing. The second issue in particular sets up some interesting conflicts which I am sure will be expanded upon in sequels.
One of my few quibbles with this book was that the Arcadia Project, the group that smooths relations between the worlds and which Millie and Caryl work for, while made up primarily of mentally ill people, only accepts mentally ill people who are not dependent on meds, which is a really weird worldbuilding choice. There are enough narratives in fantasy in which meds are a negative force, and in this case the reasons behind this exclusion weren’t explained very well. Of course, since the Arcadia Project is ethically a bit dubious, this might turn out to be just them misinterpreting the situation or being jerks.
My other problem was that a plot-crucial betrayal didn’t seem to make sense in terms of motivation– I just think it should have been set up better.
I really loved the exploration of Borderline Personality Disorder and how to live with a disease that makes one frequently make mistakes that hurt others. Millie describes the techniques she uses to deal with her rage and her problems perceiving others’ intent. Also, I ended up sympathizing with both Millie when she lashed out and those she was lashing out at, knowing simultaneously that Millie was hurting and that she was causing pain to others.
I highly recommend this book to those looking for a fast-paced urban fantasy, but know that it is not a light read per se; it deals with heavy themes and has a body count. All of which only made it more appealing to me.