Pros: fascinating protagonist, thought-provoking, interesting mystery
Millicent Roper, director and UCLA student, is in an institute for borderline personality disorder and an attempted suicide that left her with two prosthetic limbs and a lot of physical and emotional scars. When Caryl Vallo approaches her with a job offer, she’s intrigued by the secrecy surrounding it. The Arcadia Project regulates travel between our world and Arcadia, and one of their nobles hasn’t returned as scheduled.
I picked this book up because the protagonist has several physical and mental disabilities. I kept reading because the writing is so damn good.
I was a little afraid that I wouldn’t like the protagonist, as she’s introduced as bitter and sarcastic. But as the story’s told from her point of view, the reader’s included in her thought process - why she acts the way she acts, and therefore gets to see the disconnect between her thoughts and feelings and her actions. In other words, she’s not a particularly nice person from the outside, but from the inside you really sympathize with her. Much of the division between what she feels vs what she does comes from her borderline personality disorder, but there’s also an element of ‘I’ve been hurt before so I’ll keep others away so I can’t be hurt again’.
I’m not qualified to judge the accuracy of Baker’s depictions of prosthetics, wheelchair use, and mental disorders, so I’d be interested in hearing from those who are. It was wonderful to see a protagonist deal with physical and mental disabilities - especially referencing the psychiatric treatments that help her deal with the borderline personality disorder.
The book is interesting because Millie works with several other damaged people, who aren’t very polite towards her but are likely just as sympathetic, if you saw inside them. It’s understood that they’ve all got issues of some sort - like Millie, but she’s not always told what their issues are. On the one hand, I understood that as a privacy issue it should be left to the individual to decide if they want to tell their story. On the other hand, I suspect some of the personality clashes in the book could have been resolved if everyone understood what everyone else is going through / what their diagnoses are - so they could avoid triggering negative reactions in each other.
One of my favourite things in the book was the calling out of unintentional/unconscious insults/racism. These include things she does and things she notices others doing to her.
You’re slowly introduced to what the Arcadia Project does and it’s quite interesting. The world expands a little at a time with each revelation to Millie about what’s really going on. And she’s a very clever protagonist, seeing minor clues and putting things together in ways I didn’t catch. The mystery was really interesting, with several twists I didn’t see coming. The world is soundly built, with rules - quite specific ones - and lots of room to expand.
This is an excellent urban fantasy novel that doesn’t follow the trends. There’s no romance, no ass kicking, just damaged people trying to get by in a damaged world.
Out March 1st.