In the first installment of Mishell Baker’s THE ARCADIA PROJECT series we are introduced to Millie, whose borderline personality disorder at least partly explains the title of the book. Borderline (2016) follows Millie as she is pulled into The Arcadia Project, an organization that monitors and secures the comings and goings between the world of humans and the world of mythological, fairy tale creatures. Millie’s first assignment with The Arcadia Project has her tracking down an A-list movie star who is actually a denizen of that other world, and an important one at that. Millie must balance her mental health, her physical capabilities, and a dozen new acquaintances in order to manage this new life.
The magic in Borderline centres on the presence and activities of the fairy tale creatures that make their way to the human world. Their magic is as often about concealment (from those who go on not knowing they exist) as it is about being noticed (by the right people). I liked how the often flashy, eccentric fairy tale beings spent so much time on not being noticed as anything but human. That and their somewhat rebellious nature lent itself well to some unique situational storytelling.
In perhaps the most stand-out attribute of the novel, Borderline centres on a cast of characters which includes a large number of people who have mental illnesses. These portrayals of people with mental illnesses show them all as complex beings. They are sometimes heroes, and sometimes not — but always people. This kind of portrayal of a varied and diverse cast helps to ground the story in a reality that is close to our own while also then subverting our world with the existence of magic and beings from another realm. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the main characters’ interpersonal dynamics as well as their interactions with the non-human visitors to Earth.
This novel is one grand and complicated mystery. For me as a reader, mysteries are not my preferred storytelling (the running around, sleuthing, and relying on prior knowledge to crack the case are things that don’t often appeal to me) and so in the plot aspect I wasn’t as engaged with the text. That being said, I did enjoy the book as a whole — probably because I tend to weigh characters above plot and Borderline has plenty of characters I can explore, enjoy, and try to understand.
Without getting into spoiler territory, there was one plot point which felt very close to too convenient for me (mentioned in the last paragraph of this review). As all the pieces of the mystery began to fall into place, there was one which I felt like I could have waited for, even if it only came in a later book in the series. As it stands it does open many new avenues for future installments in THE ARCADIA PROJECT: book 2, Phantom Pains, was published in 2017, and book 3 — Impostor Syndrome — is currently expected to be published in 2018 .
Highlight here to see spoiler: Millie finding her echo felt almost too convenient to me. After how much the echo aspect was built up it seemed a little too easy that, on her first mission in the world of magic and fairy realms, she finds her proverbial other half. It could be chalked up to fate but that particular plot point stretched my suspension of disbelief a little bit.