The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett
If we could use our minds to make others see what we wanted them to see, rearrange people’s internal organs and dissolve their musculature, call animals to do our every bidding, or know others’ thoughts as intimately as our own, wouldn’t we rule the world? Or would we be so preoccupied with fighting with others like us that humans would be mere pawns, little worth toying with? Or, even worse, would we be so damaged by our powers that we would be dangerous to ourselves and others?
These are all questions posed by Ayize Jama-Everett’s short, powerful first novel, The Liminal People (2012). Jama-Everett’s first person narrator, Taggert, introduces himself while in the midst of conducting a drug sale he is conducting on behalf of his mentor, Nordeen Maximus. Taggert is able to keep the transaction from going sour by putting his would-be assassins to sleep with a mental nudge, a skill he’s developed from his greater ability to manipulate his own and others’ bodies on a molecular level. The deal resolves in his favor, not surprisingly given his advantage, and he returns to his home near Al Hoceima in Morocco. There, he finds a recorded message from Yasmine Petalas, a woman from his past with her own mental ability – to manipulate fire – who broke his heart. She is calling to tell him she needs him, and he must come quickly.
Taggert obtains Nordeen’s permission to leave the country, doing his best to avoid Nordeen’s questions but compelled nonetheless to reveal that Yasmine is “like us”; Nordeen would know if he was lying, apparently as part of his own ability. Taggert makes his way to London, telling us his back story (including his history with Yasmine) as he travels. Once there, he finds that Yasmine is married to a diplomat. Yasmine charges him with finding her daughter, Tamara, who is gifted with telekinesis. No one knows whether Tamara has simply run away or has been kidnapped, and no one knows whether it has anything to do with her ability or merely her status as the daughter of a diplomat.
From that point forward, the book is in high gear for adventure, though Jama-Everett never loses sight of the philosophical and moral points, particularly with regard to the responsibilities inherent – or not – in having great power. When Taggart finds Tamara, he finds himself schooling her in the use of her power, both in a practical, how-to sense, and in a moral sense, trying to explain when it is proper to use her power and when it is not. It’s an odd lesson coming from a man who has often used his own power in order to run drugs and other contraband in and out of Africa, and Taggart finds himself examining his own life as well.
The Liminal People is an excellent first novel full of insightful characters – however gradually they may gain that insight – engaged in a battle that seems to have only just begun. I’m hoping that this novel is the first in a series, as Jama-Everett has built a world and peopled it with characters about which and whom I wish to know more.
Ayize Jama-Everett’s fantasy novel The Liminal People was originally published in 2012. Small Beer Press is reissuing the entire four-book LIMINAL PEOPLE series in 2022. Jama-Everett imagines a mundane world filled with people of extraordinary magics, giving us the story of a man seeking a lost child who may instead recover his own soul.
Taggert, the first-person narrator, can affect biological bodies down to the molecular level. By nature a healer, he has by circumstance become a killer, turning the bodies of his adversaries against them. Taggert works for a powered, mysterious individual named Nordeen. It’s not quite clear what Nordeen’s power is, but Taggert sincerely believes that Nordeen is stronger than him, and Taggert is sworn to the Razor-neck drew. Nordeen makes them wear a razor blade on a chain around their necks all the time, so they can feel death close to them.
After a violent opening sequence of a deal-gone-wrong, the story settles down when Taggert gets a message from a woman he left behind years ago—possibly the only person he’s ever loved. Yasmine asks for his help because her daughter Tamara is missing. Taggert gets permission from Nordeen to leave Morocco and travel to London, where Yasmine lives with her diplomat husband and her daughter. Nordeen only grants Taggert’s request when Taggert admits that Yasmine has powers like theirs—only she has put hers aside. From there, Taggert plunges into painful memories, and double-cross after double-cross.
The thing I liked best about The Liminal People was Taggert’s narrative voice. Jama-Everett takes pains to differentiate between Taggert’s mental monologues and the kinds of speech he uses in different situation. Taggert speaking to Nordeen is a different man than Taggert confronting Yamine. Bits or irreverence add a dry wit to the mix—like Fish’n’Chips, Taggert’s personal nickname for Yasmine’s excruciatingly white, British husband.
The tension ratchets up steadily, and the settings are concrete and plausible. To rescue Tamara, Taggert must confront not only Nordeen, but a liminal person more powerful than any he’s faced before—an adversary he literally cannot see.
Taggert was a convincing character. Probably my favorite character in the book was Prentiss, a street kid who has a connection to animals. Nordeen is an enigma and I enjoyed Taggert’s final conversation with him (in this book, at least—something tells me these two aren’t done yet). I was not convinced by Yasmine’s behavior, particularly in a private meeting room of an exclusive club. She is less character, more plot device, but even allowing for that her actions weren’t convincing to me. It’s a small point; and if the other characters hadn’t been so rounded, I might not even have noticed.
The book is filled with violent action scenes, so be aware. I think the word I would use for the whole book is “exciting.” There are three more in the series, and I will definitely seek them out. Jama-Everett’s liminal people are original and fascinating.
This sounds great! Terry, thanks for the review. (Sung to the tune of the Queen song): Da-da dum-dum-dum — Another one joins the list.
And another one on! And another on! Another one joins the list!
And thank you, Marion, because that’s a way better song than the earworm I had before reading your comment.
Hey! I’m gonna read that, too, another one joins the list!
We will, we will rock you!
I think among all of us we managed one whole verse. We are the champions.
We’ll keep on fighting to the end.
Kinda sounds X-men-ish; but dirtier (in a good way).