I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker
Series: Arcadia Project Trilogy #2
Published by Saga Press on March 21 2017
Genres: Adult, Urban fantasy
Buy on Amazon
Good news for US readers! The publisher is kindly offering up a copy of Phantom Pains, so don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of my post!
In the second book to the “exciting, inventive, and brilliantly plotted” (Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling author) Borderline, Millie unwillingly returns to the Arcadia Project when an impossible and deadly situation pulls her back in.
Four months ago, Millie left the Arcadia Project after losing her partner Teo to the lethal magic of an Unseelie fey countess. Now, in a final visit to the scene of the crime, Millie and her former boss Caryl encounter Teo’s tormented ghost. But there’s one problem: according to Caryl, ghosts don’t exist.
Millie has a new life, a stressful job, and no time to get pulled back into the Project, but she agrees to tell her side of the ghost story to the agents from the Project’s National Headquarters. During her visit though, tragedy strikes when one of the agents is gruesomely murdered in a way only Caryl could have achieved. Millie knows Caryl is innocent, but the only way to save her from the Project’s severe, off-the-books justice is to find the mysterious culprits that can only be seen when they want to be seen. Millie must solve the mystery not only to save Caryl, but also to foil an insidious, arcane terrorist plot that would leave two worlds in ruins.
The nitty-gritty: Another stellar entry in The Arcadia Project series, with plenty of magic, action, danger and some seriously wonderful characterizations.
Once again, Mishell Baker has knocked it out of the park, with her follow-up to Borderline. Book two in The Arcadia Project series picks up a few months after the last book, and Baker wastes no time recapping the events at the end of Borderline but jumps right into the story. For this reason, you absolutely must read Borderline first, if you haven’t already. There will be minor spoilers (unavoidable) for that book if you haven’t read it, so beware. I was so happy to discover that Phantom Pains is just as good, and that’s not something I get to say very often when it comes to second books in series. In addition to many returning characters and some new ones that I really fell in love with, there’s plenty to love about this book, including: a magical harp, a copy of Game of Thrones that has errant spirits trapped in every page, and a man-eating manticor named Brand who disguises himself as an Irish Setter.
When the story begins, Millie is working for Naderi on a TV show, a stressful job that she struggles with for several reasons—her borderline personality disorder for one interferes with her life on a day-to-day basis—but she’s holding her own, after quitting the Arcadia Project at the end of Borderline and moving into her own apartment. But she’s about to get pulled back in—big time. After a weird experience at Stage 13, where the final showdown with the Unseelie Countess Vivian took place, Millie finds herself back in Residence Four, the dilapidated mansion where she used to live. While she and Caryl are conferring with an agent from the Arcadia Project, one of the residents is murdered, and unfortunately, all signs point to Caryl being the murderer.
Millie knows her former boss is innocent, and so she sets out to prove it, aided by her Echo Claybriar, her former housemate Tjuan, King Winterglass, and many more characters, both human and fey. But things are much more complicated than Millie realizes, and the unrest between the Seelie and Unseelie courts is about to come to Los Angeles, unless Millie and her friends can find a way to stop it.
It’s really hard to describe this plot in just a couple of paragraphs, so that’s all you’re going to get from me. Suffice it to say, Phantom Pains is packed with twists and turns, dangers that crop up when least expected, and plenty of Baker’s intricate world-building to bind it all together. You don’t so much read about the world of the fey as immerse yourself in it. Baker has come up with a sturdy structure on which her world is built, with rules that must be followed or else. The beauty of this is that Millie, by design, is a rule breaker, which throws the plot into all sorts of chaos, leaving Millie and her pals to dig their way out of one mess after another. It’s great fun, and to top it all off, Millie is one of my favorite fictional characters, and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of her.
In case you don’t know, Millie is a double amputee, having lost both her legs after jumping off a building (trying to commit suicide, obviously). She wears prosthetics, but I love the way Baker makes the reader see that prosthetics may be a wonderful invention, but they aren’t perfect. Millie suffers constant pain and she still has a hard time walking. She tires easily and her stumps get sweaty, but it never seems to slow her down. She also suffers from BPD, borderline personality disorder, which makes it hard for her to form lasting relationships, among other disadvantages. But Millie takes it all in stride. We see her go to group counseling every week and work through her disorder, and it’s even more fascinating because she’s telling the story from her point of view. She’s one of the most self-aware characters I’ve ever seen in fiction, and best of all, she’s got a talent for inappropriately timed snark and humor, always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It takes a certain type of humor to make me laugh out loud, and Millie had me laughing a lot while I was reading this book.
Not far behind her on my “character love” scale is Claybriar, her Echo who just happens to be a fawn, but when he’s on the human side of the gates, he disguises himself as a young, cute artist-type guy. I loved the chemistry between the two, even when they can barely touch each other (because Millie’s body is riddled with metal, due to her accident, her touch is painful to the fey). Millie is one horny girl, and Claybriar, being a fawn, gets plenty of action himself. Their complex relationship made for some very interesting scenes, and I’m looking forward to seeing where things go in the next book.
Despite Millie’s fondness for Claybriar, however, she’s also attracted to Caryl, another favorite character of mine. There’s a long but riveting back-story about how Caryl was stolen by the fey as a child, and what’s happened to her in the time since she was returned. It was almost painful at times to witness the ups and downs of their relationship, such that it is. One thing is for sure, you will not get bored reading this book, there is so much going on!
And as I mentioned, the author has plenty of surprises up her sleeves. I was immediately taken with one of the new characters, only to witness him die a horrible death late in the book. And yet, I feel like there’s more to that than meets the eye. Dare I hope this character isn’t really dead, and will return for the next book??
It’s so easy to get caught up in Mishell Baker’s magical world, and I guarantee once you enter, you won’t want to leave. Waiting for the next book is going to be excruciating! If you love unique urban fantasy and characters who are deeply developed and seem all too human, you need to start this series as soon as you can.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
Find the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound
Borderline, the first book in The Arcadia Project series, is now a 2016 Nebula Award finalist (best novel), and has been given a lovely new cover:
Read my review of Borderline here.
About the author:
MISHELL BAKER is a 2009 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and her short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede. She has a website at MishellBaker.com and frequently tweets about writing, parenthood, mental health, and assorted geekery at @MishellBaker. When she’s not attending conventions or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children. Her debut novel, Borderline is currently a Nebula award finalist. Its sequel, Phantom Pains, will be available on March 21.