Baker, Mishell. Borderline.

NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

I’ve been a heavy reader of all sorts of science fiction all my life but I’m much pickier about fantasy. Tolkien, for instance, doesn’t do a thing for me. I do like a lot of “urban fantasy” though, and Baker, whose first novel this is, is a welcome new addition to that sub-genre. Here she tells the story of Millicent Roper, who is barely getting along a year after a badly failed attempt at suicide when she was a film student at UCLA. Millie went off a seven-story building and survived (unintentionally) by crashing through a tree, but the fall cost her all of one leg and half the other one, and now she has to deal with prosthetics and a cane and a wheelchair. On top of the that, she has Borderline Personality Disorder, and some days she can barely hang on. And she’s in a private therapeutic facility but the money’s running out.

Just in time, she’s recruited for the Arcadia Project, which is funded partly by local government and partly by the film industry. She doesn’t know anything about it, but she’s desperate, so she’s willing to give it a shot. Then she discovers that the project provides an interface between our world and an alternate world of faerie, the Seelie Court. Everyone in that parallel world — the inhabitants of which are decidedly not human but can cast a good glamour in order to pass in ours — has an “Echo” in the human world, and when (and if) the two can get together, they can accomplish amazing things. In fact, that’s where most of our own human creative inspiration has come from — from interactions with the other world. But there are rules that have to be obeyed on both sides, and enforcing those rules — very diplomatically — is the Arcadia Project’s job. And Millie turns out to be a talented investigator. Even if she does drive the rest of the group at Residence Four nuts. But then, they’re all a little crazy. That’s why they were recruited. Not to mention, there’s also the Unseelie Court, a much more malevolent alternative, and it isn’t long before Millie runs into them, too.

It’s a rousing story, almost a thriller, built around a carefully thought-out and internally consistent plot. The characters are fully developed and the dialogue scintillates. It’s hard to believe this is a first novel, but it was also a Nebula finalist. Baker is going to be an author to watch. Better yet, this is only the first in a series.

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