Borderline by Mishell Baker

And how is everybody doing on this delightfully chilly, wonderfully cloudy, hopefully soon to be rainy day? And yes, yes, I know, ya’ll love it when it’s sunny and warm and sticky and disgusting outside, but I’m a west coaster at heart. I live here because I love the rain, and there has been nooooone of it for months. Let me have these few days before the heat ramps back up and it gets unbearable again.

Wait…are we talking about the weather? Is this where we’re at now? Is the magic gone? How do we get it back?

Talk about books, you say? Don’t mind if I do!

This is a novel that’s completely built on the back of its protagonist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all here for weird urban fantasy settings and fairies and all that jazz, but I’ve read a lot of that kind of thing. The world building in this one is pretty solid. The rules are well laid out, but not so well laid out that there isn’t some mystery left, the fantastical elements come across as well worn and lived in, and there’s enough difference in the characterization of the fey for them to seem fresh enough (there have been sooooo many books about fairies that it would be next to impossible to come up with a completely and entirely original take. I don’t expect that. I just want you to put enough of a twist on them, on any common fantasy character you write about, so that I can recognize them as your faeries or werewolves or whatever). But the world building alone, with a more vanilla character at its centre, wouldn’t have been enough for it to stand out amongst its contemporaries.

Millie Roper, on the other hand, would draw the eye in any crowd she was in. I don’t know what it is about underdogs that people love so much, that I love so much. Maybe it’s seeing them think their way around problems. If you’re the big guy, the powerhouse, you don’t really have to do that. You just bash your way to the finish line and bobs your uncle. The game’s yours. But putting characters at a disadvantage forces them to be clever (if the writing is good. There’s nothing in this world that bothers me more than a hack writer who puts their character in a problem they can’t solve and then just cheats their way out of it). It turns every encounter they have, every obstacle they run up against, into a puzzle. How do you fight somebody twice your size? Who’s stronger, faster, better trained? How do you beat somebody who can give you a heart attack just by touching you? There’s nothing that we like more than a good puzzle (right? I know I kinda just spoke for everybody, but I can’t be alone on this one) with a clever solution.

Millie is the underdoggiest underdog who ever underdug. She’s got a boat load of mental health issues (borderline personality disorder, mild brain damage, and PTSD, both from her recent failed suicide attempt and the implied sexual assault that played a part in it) and a bunch of physical handicaps to boot. She tried to kill herself a year before the book opens and lost both of her legs in the attempt. She’s got prosthetics, good ones, but it’s still difficult for her to get up stairs or get out of vehicles. Running is generally out of the question. So is standing for too long. Plus she can’t even wear them too soon after getting out of a shower or if her skin gets irritated. The lady’s got about as many hurdles as a person can have. The weird thing was though, despite the fact that the book (and Millie) never forgets about the difficulties that she faces just getting around, I started to. She’s such a tough, smart, capable jackass that, over the course of the book, I forgot to think of her as the underdog. When she came up against challenges that seemed insurmountable, the question changed from “if” she was going to be able to do it, to “how” she was going to get it done.

Recommended for folks that like urban fantasy, darker faerie stories, and protagonists that may be assholes and complete trainwrecks, but are still the smartest person in any room they decide to stand in.

VBR

 

Ps. Just as a side note, I didn’t mention the representational aspect of this novel in the body of my review because it had nothing to do with why I bought it or enjoyed reading it, and it seemed a little…false to bring it up while I was talking about it. I’m here for more representation of all different types of people on the page, and think this book does a good job of getting across some of the daily difficulties (although don’t quote me on that. It felt authentic in the moment, but she could have made all of it up whole cloth and I wouldn’t know the difference) of what it would be like to live with certain physical and mental issues. Baker treats them realistically (sometimes Millie is a straight up jerk), but with compassion. Her story is sad, reaaaally sad, but it’s not a sob story. She’s not made to be pitied. It’s very well done. So if you’re looking for more of that stuff in your books, this is a good place to get it.

 

 

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