Phantom 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.