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.
One thought on “Borderline – Mishell Baker”
[…] Borderline, Mishell Baker’s debut, was one of the more delightful surprises of 2016–a character-driven urban fantasy that dealt with managing mental illness while also stopping evil fairy plots. Phantom Pains expands on some of the plotlines hinted at in book one–class conflict in the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, and Millie and Caryl’s budding romantic chemistry. When mysterious wraiths start possessing people, and Caryl is framed for murder, Millie must clear her name before Caryl is executed by her employers, the strict Arcadia Project that regulates contact between the worlds. […]