Review of Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

29850681Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker. ★★★★

Phantom Pains is the sequel to Mishell Baker’s phenomenal debut, Borderline, which dealt with issues of disability and mental health as well as being a really fun urban fantasy novel. While it would be possible to read Phantom Pains on its own, I recommend reading the books in order. Spoilers for Borderline will be included in the rest of this review.

Fourth months ago, Millie left the Arcadia Project to work for Inaya West and her new studio. She’s finally gotten around to trying to clean up magical residue from Stage 13 with her old boss Caryl, when she sees the ghost of Teo. Except, ghosts don’t exist and that shouldn’t be possible. To make matters worse, a Project agent is murdered and Caryl is accused. If she wants to save Caryl, Millie will have to take it upon herself to investigate.

As with Borderline, Millie is the best part of the book. In the four months since Borderline, she’s grown a lot. She’s been going to therapy for all of that time, and it’s reflected in her narration. She doesn’t always have control of herself, but she’s more in control and more self aware than in the prior book. I love Millie’s character, and this character growth only makes me love her more. I can’t wait to see how she develops in subsequent books.

So when I was reading the first book, I was pretty certain Millie was queer but I didn’t talk about it in my review, since I thought it was mainly subtext. There’s no way that Phantom Pains can be deemed subtext. Millie is definitely, 100% Not Straight. Borderline hinted that Caryl may have a crush on Millie. As it turns out, she does, and Millie’s attracted to her. But Millie also knows herself well enough to know that a relationship with Caryl would be a terrible idea — Caryl has her own mental health issues, and neither her or Millie is in a place where a relationship could end in anything but disaster.

Phantom Pains also builds on the world in some interesting ways. We’d already heard of the fae courts, but they have a much larger presence here. In general, we see more of fae society and believes, although the focus is still on the Arcadia Project. Even there, more is revealed, with higher ups from the Project visiting LA. Towards the end of the book, there’s some huge revelations that will impact the books to come. I always want sequels to expand the world in some way, and Phantom Pains succeeds in this regard.

The Arcadia Project is one of the best and most original urban fantasy series in recent years, in large part due to its focus on mental health and disability. Even if you’re not a habitual urban fantasy reader, I’d encourage you to check out this series. If you’ve already read Borderline, I don’t think Phantom Pains will disappoint.



10 Comments Add yours

  1. lkeke35 says:

    I’m in the middle of reading this right now, and enjoying it very much. I loved the first book, I’d argue it was one of the best Fantasy novels of last year, and I’m looking forward to future adventures.

    I don’t normally read many books with lesbian characters, becasue I feel that the subject isn’t often handled very well, but this one handles the subject beautifully.

    1. I’d agree that Borderline was one of the best fantasy books of last year. It’s a real breathe of air to the urban fantasy genre.

      I’m not sure what you mean by lesbian relationships/characters though. I guess Caryl could be gay? I don’t think she’s expressed any gender preference though. All we know is that she has a crush on Millie.

  2. Pyo says:

    Usually I’m all like “stay away from the romance, it’s only going to be stereotypical and boring”, but this time I actually wanted to have more of it. Sigh. Although, of course, the outcome made sense.

    Oh well. Maybe later in the series? Although I doubt it.

    Either way, I agree, it’s nicely creative with interesting themes. And some of the aspects that really bugged me in the first novel (like no medication, that just made no sense to me) aren’t quite so present anymore.

    1. The no medication thing bothered me too. I’m glad it got a bit more of an explanation here and that it was clarified that the Project supports people who need to take medication for their mental/physical health.

  3. I loved this book! Hard to imagine the first one could be beat, but Baker went and did it! Millie is amazing 🙂

    1. I can’t wait for the third!

      1. Oh! Is there going to be a third? Phantom Pains ended in a way that felt extremely final, and I had just assumed that it was meant to be a duology. YAY if it’s going to be three! I love this series and this world and this heroine.

      2. A book three has already been announced and has a cover. I don’t think it’s on Goodreads yet though.

  4. This series is absolutely fantastic and I can’t wait for the next book! Great review!

    1. Thanks! I actually just read an ARC of the next book and it was really good too. 🙂

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