Imagine if every talented actor you love was a faerie. Such is the basic premise (there is much, MUCH more) of Mishell Baker’s new novel, Borderline. In a fey spin on the some-famous-people-are-aliens bent of the Men in Black movies, Baker creates a hidden faerie world inside of the already labyrinthine world of Hollywood.
Millicent—known as Millie—Roper has had a rough go of things. A year ago, she became a double amputee and lost her filmmaking career after a failed suicide attempt. Now, when the mysterious Caryl Vallo shows up at Millie’s new home, Leishman Psychiatric Center, and offers her a job with the Arcadia project, Millie thinks maybe it’s all just something she can attribute to her recent troubles, not to mention her borderline personality disorder.
Turns out that the project is real, and that Millie has much to learn about her new job, coworkers, and her job responsibilities as they relate to the fey, Seelie, and Unseelie people. She joins the crew at “Residence Four,” including her new partner, Teo (Mateo Salazar), and learns about a world she never knew existed.
I loved the story, and that it’s the start of a new adult fantasy series. Several things about the novel appealed to me, including Baker’s knowledge of Hollywood, how she ties the faerie world into the “real” Hollywood, her inclusion of multiple diverse characters, and of course the individual characters.
What made the story even greater for me is that Millie is so real. She has borderline personality disorder and discusses it throughout the novel rather frankly, educating the most-likely uneducated reader about what it’s like to live with it. She is bisexual. She’s a double amputee, and now has to rely on prosthetic devices and a cane—and at times a wheelchair—in order to move around. She is foul-mouthed. She continuously processes through her thoughts about her disorder—and its accompanying symptoms and behaviors—throughout the book. In short: Millie is real. She is not perfect and never claims to be. She is decidedly open about who and what she is—and who and what she would never even want to be: she accepts who she is. And she doesn’t hide it apologize for it.
Among Milie’s moments of reflection during the novel, the one I loved the most was when she encountered police officer Brian Clay, who “showed up too late to save [her]” after her suicide attempt. She sees his discomfiture upon finding her again and realizing who she is and thinks, “You think you’ve given yourself forty lashes for everyone you hurt, and then you realize you’ll never know the numbers.”
Millie’s own process of self-discovery (or self re-discovery, as it may be in this case) grounds the novel in the experiences of a character it was easy for me to connect with.
When Caryl recruits Millie, she openly admits that everyone who works for the Arcadia project is mentally ill. And when Millie meets her coworkers, she learns that she can’t ask anyone about the disorders they may have. This was a great strategy on Baker’s part to introduce the characters to the readers without us forming any preconceptions about their particular illnesses. Millie doesn’t judge them (well, maybe a little, but not for their illnesses). So, the reader doesn’t either. Nor does the reader really judge when the denizens of Residence Four are as real with each other as Millie is with the reader. They don’t all get along, and the realness of this was at times startling, but entirely apt.
Millie’s recovery process and time with the Arcadia project give her a perspective on life that some people not living with mental illness could learn a thing or two from: self-awareness that leads to the ability to reflect, learn, and change. I can’t wait to see more of Millie Roper.
A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her film-making 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.
ABOUT MISHELL BAKER:
Mishell Baker is a 2009 graduate of the Clarion Fantasy & Science Fiction Writers’ Workshop. Her short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede.
Her urban fantasy series The Arcadia Project is being released by Simon & Schuster’s Saga imprint beginning with Borderline in March 2016. The series is narrated by Millicent Roper, a snarky double-amputee and suicide survivor who works with a ragtag collection of society’s least-wanted, keeping the world safe from the chaotic whims of supernatural beasties.
When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings. When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are. In the meantime, she enjoys sending and receiving old-fashioned handwritten paper letters. You can write her at:
PO Box 78760
Los Angeles, CA 90016
If analog isn’t your thing, Mishell also tweets almost incessantly under the handle @mishellbaker.