Sunday, June 17, 2018

Review - Borderline

Borderline (The Arcadia Project #1)
by Mishell Baker
Date: 2016
Publisher: Saga Press
Reading level: NA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 401
Format: e-book

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.

No pressure.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

WARNING: Major Spoilers! To read this review with the spoilers hidden, check it out on Goodreads.

What a rollercoaster! I went from really enjoying this book to feeling a little bored to being so angry I had trouble concentrating on the last quarter; after that, however, things started to fall apart anyway, and the four-star read I thought this was going to be was rapidly losing my enthusiasm.

This book started off great, with solid writing and intriguing characters. I haven't read a book where the main character has Borderline Personality Disorder (at least, not a book where it was explicitly stated), so that was an interesting twist. Millie being a double leg amputee also added a new dimension to the story, since it threw up some physical roadblocks. I loved the diversity of the characters; not only do they come from various cultural backgrounds, but most of them also had mental illnesses as well. The plot seemed to be strong: there's a missing Seelie nobleman, and Millie's been plucked out of a mental health facility--for reasons unknown to her at the time--to help find him.

I think my first problem with this book is that... well, I just don't think I'm a mystery fan. If you enjoy books where the main character spends the majority of her time making her way around Los Angeles interviewing people and picking up clues, great! I realize that's just how the genre is sometimes, but for me, I found the pace and lack of action kind of slow and boring. There wasn't much more Millie could do with her physical limitations (lots of chases on foot were out), so I get that this was how it had to be.

As interesting as the characters were, there was a lot that was held back about them, which brings me to another complaint. We didn't really see them fleshed out as much as I expected, and in fact, some of them are now dead, leaving certain questions unanswered (and perhaps unanswerable). We never did find out the story behind Gloria's murders, and Teo--probably my favourite in the whole book--was left as a frustrating blank. I actually thought--based on some comments that I thought were clues--that he might've been trans or something. Imagine my disappointment when, not only was that not the case, but we didn't find out much about him at all before his death that seemed to come out of nowhere and affect his co-workers about as much as the death of a houseplant. By that point, I'd also realized that these people--supposedly unmedicated--weren't showing any signs of mental illness. It's almost as if the author forgot that was the whole hook behind the Arcadia Project. In theory, yes, they're all mentally ill. But aside from Teo's bad driving--which won't exactly get you a diagnosis--he showed few signs of having Bipolar Disorder. Gloria was a supposed murderer who got off on an insanity plea... but aside from being kind of a two-faced bitch, I wasn't sure what her actual diagnosis was supposed to be. Tjuan was the only one who really showed any symptoms, and even then, his paranoia often came across as more surly than pathological.

So... something also happened at around three-quarters of the way through the book that made it really difficult for me to continue. I won't get into it because the issue is not relevant to the book (and, having zero relevance to the plot, shouldn't even have been in there), but it absolutely incensed me. This whole book is, in some ways, an essay about acceptance, and yet the author felt the need to throw a cheap shot at a marginalized group. Why? I don't know. Virtue signalling, maybe. I found it distasteful and cruel. Just because our society still accepts throwing shade at this particular group doesn't mean it's right or kind.

After that, I had a hard time concentrating on the story... but things started to fall apart anyway. The author's memory about her own main character seemed to be spotty, and she had her double leg amputee (who has one above-knee and one below-knee amputation) doing things like jumping to her feet or crouching on the ground, when she'd spent most of the book hobbling around with a cane and at one point even having a hard time getting up after being thrown to the ground. Characters started to do things that were... well, kind of out of character. Teo's move to the dark side--when he'd already been established as a stickler for the rules--didn't make any sense. Berenbaum's back-and-forth didn't convince me, either. Then there were some ridiculous scenes with people communicating non-verbally with each other over the villain's shoulder... and the villain somehow not noticing! I'm also not sure why Gloria died from falling into the well. Especially since Rivenholt and Claybriar didn't, and... Let's just say the magic explanations had some holes.

Overall, it's not a terrible book if you don't mind the more leisurely pace of a mystery. The urban fantasy elements were neat, and the characters--at least in the beginning--were interesting. But since it fell apart so badly for me in the last quarter, it coloured my opinion of the whole thing. And with the character I liked most now dead, there's really no reason for me to read on.

Premise: 4/5
Plot: 3/5
Characters: 3/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 4/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Minus one star for offensive content.

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 ladybugs

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