Review: Borderline by Mishell Baker

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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.

Published by Saga Press.


 

An eARC of this book was received by the published via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Mishell Baker is a friend of mine; this has not influenced how I am have reviewed this book.


Borderline is Mishell Baker’s debut novel, and the first book in the Arcadia Project trilogy.

Millicent (Millie) Roper was once a movie director.  Millie also has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and a year ago, after a failed affair, she tried to take her life by jumping from a seven storey building.  She survived, but along with being physically scarred, she is also a double amputee.  She now wears prosthetic legs to walk, or uses a wheelchair when her pain prevents walking.

Now, Millie is in a mental health facility.  She’s learned how to live with mobility aids, and more importantly, she has learned techniques for dealing with her mental illness.  She knows that she isn’t perfect, and she also knows damn well that she’s no one’s inspiration.  She’s simply trying to get by as best as she can with the dice roll life gave her.

And then the Arcadia Project enters her life.

The Arcadia Project is an organisation which polices the borders between the human world and the world of the fey, known to the project as Arcadia.  They offer Millie a job and a new life.

Millie is a fascinating protagonist.  In another author’s hands, she could easily have become someone quite hateful, especially when her BPD flares.  But in Baker’s hands, Millie is more complex than that – she is far more than just her mental illness.  She is almost painfully self aware, to the point where it’s far easier as a reader to empathise with her instead of hate her, even when she’s doing things that are quite hateful.

All of the members of the Arcadia Project that Millie ends up working with deal with some kind of mental illness – instability lends a greater ease to seeing and accepting magic, which is an absolutely brilliant idea by Baker.  Especially so because she doesn’t glorify any of the illness – there are no two-dimensional tropes here, but characters who feel like real, flawed people, all of whom are clawing their way through life as best as they can.  None of their illnesses are treated as set dressing, but parts of them which bleed into every part of their lives.  Better, there are no magical cures – at the end of the book, everyone is still dealing with the same problems, just as they would in the real world.

I was extremely impressed by the way Baker treats Millie’s physical disability.  It’s made clear time and time again that the world isn’t built for her any more, as she has to deal with how to navigate stairs in her prosthetics (and how to get her wheelchair up and down stairs for when she needs it).  Again, there’s no magic inspiration here – Millie is always aware of the fact that she has her prosthetics when she’s using them, having to adjust them, and almost always having to be in pain from using them.  Baker has clearly done her homework here, and it’s to be much applauded.

This book contains a very real and honest look at BPD and how it can affect someone.  Baker is open about the fact that she also has BPD, and she pulls no punches with it.  I suspect there will be more than one reader who will identify with Millie, or recognise her in someone they know, because of the honest treatment of BPD in Borderline.

I absolutely adore the fae characters in this book.  We only see glimpses of what the fae world, Arcadia, is like, but again, it’s clear that Baker has steeped herself in folklore and mythology, and then turned it into something that is very much her own.  I absolutely love the idea that the fae would be attracted to Hollywood, in particular.

Beyond all of this, the writing is absolutely brilliant, with just enough humour to temper some of the darkness in Millie’s world.

Also, I love Elliott.  Maybe a bit too much for my own good.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and I will not be surprised in the slightest to see it on upcoming awards ballots.

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