Borderline by Mishell Baker. ★★★★
Trigger warning: self harm
Borderline is one of the best urban fantasy novels I’ve read in a long time. Having been reading urban fantasy for a while, certain elements feel familiar. The protagonist is usually snarky, and if female, conventionally attractive and probably wears black leather. The protagonist is likely to be some sort of detective, and there’s a mystery to be solved.
Mishell Baker’s Borderline both uses genre conventions and yet is unlike almost other urban fantasy novels out there. There’s fey, which are probably third most popular UF creatures after vampires and werewolves. There’s a mystery to be solved. The heroine can be snarky at times. However, it is this very heroine who makes the book so distinct.
One year before Borderline begins, Millie, a young filmmaker in LA with Borderline Personality Disorder, tries to kill herself by jumping off a seven story building. She survives but loses both her legs. She’s residing in a mental hospital when she receives a mysterious job offer from a group called the Arcadia project that polices the traffic between our realm and the fey.
“From across the room, I’ll admit death looks like a real babe. But I’ve been close enough to see what’s under her makeup, and no thanks. Really.”
Millie is a messy, complicated, almost unlikable narrator, and she was utterly compelling. Her mood is prone to rapid changes and she can lash out in sudden fits of anger. She’s also very self aware, and she often knows that what she’s feeling is a result of her BPD. At best she can exercise some control over it, but that doesn’t always mean she’ll be able to stop herself. All in all, Millie is one of the best anti-heroines I’ve encountered.
I often find a litmus test of how good a book is to be how well I like the supporting cast. Borderline has a very strong set of supporting characters. When Millie joins the Arcadia project, she goes to live in a house with the other project employees, all of whom have some form of mental health issue. My favorite was probably, Caryl, the head of the LA chapter of the Arcadia project, but I also really liked Teo, Millie’s partner on the investigation.
Once Millie joins up, she becomes embroiled in a missing person’s case. The fey who come through to our world act as muses, providing inspirations to their “Echos.” The fey partner of a big name Hollywood director has gone missing, and a larger conspiracy seems to be at play. The plot and magic elements weren’t bad by any means, but they weren’t what made me enjoy this book so much.
Millie was what made the book so stand out, and because of her I had the pleasure of reading an urban fantasy novel that felt genuinely new and not just like a retread of all of the other books in the genre. I’d recommend Borderline to anyone looking for an exceptional urban fantasy novel, particularly one with a complicated female lead.