Borderline is a sharp urban fantasy book with a new take on the “fairies walk among us” trope. It stands out, in part, for its unusual protagonist (more on that later) but also achieves above-average marks for its balance of fresh world-building with a well-paced plot. Leaning too hard on one or the other can result either in a story that drags under the weight of excessive detail, or an ill-defined, unprincipled universe where anything goes with the plot because anything can be magicked to do anything. Borderline establishes ground rules and doesn’t overreach with its fantasy trappings, relying on the LA setting and the surrealism of Hollywood/the film industry to assist the actual magic with the un/reality of the story.
Here’s the plot description from Goodreads: “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.”
What you’ve got, in essence, is a mystery/detective story, but with fairies. It works. What really elevates it is Millie. Millie has borderline personality disorder (BPD) and through her perspective, Baker creates a respectful, non-sensationalized portrait of the BPD experience, and how, with treatment, someone like Millie comes back from a suicide attempt and strives to move forward with her life. Now physically disabled in addition to her mental illness, Millie has a frank voice that works really well as an upending of the cynical, almost misanthropic, world-weary gumshoe that populates our classic (mystery) fiction. By taking us through the way Millie’s mind works in her daily interactions and how she has to recognize the processes that are hijacked by the BPD, the result is a heroine who is confrontational yet vulnerable, good at recognizing harmful responses and behavior but who is nonetheless engaged in a constant uphill battle to keep her impulse control in check.
Final thoughts: I liked the ending, and how it combined unexpected elements (good for surprise and suspense) with details that had been established or foreshadowed earlier (points to thoughtful world-building.) I liked how it laid out where the story was going without relying on a cheap cliffhanger or dangling threads. Borderline is the start to a series, but it also works as a standalone. I do plan on continuing the series, but I’ll probably wait until it’s complete and then read the rest of the books back to back.