Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

Phantom Pains is the second book in The Arcadia Project Series and the follow up to one of the best fantasy debuts of last year, Borderline. Phantom Pains starts with Millie, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, reluctantly returning to the Arcadia project where the situation starts at dire and heads toward world-wide calamity.

Millie is trying to live her life away from the Arcadia project, starting by reopening the movie stage which was the site of a tragedy that included the loss of Millie’s partner, Teo, at the end of Borderline. A strange encounter involving fey magic while trying to clear the stage with her former boss, Caryl, leads to a meeting with Arcadia agents from national headquarters. This results in another death and Caryl suspected of the murder. Millie is convinced of Caryl’s innocence but proving it is difficult. Especially while trying to stop a plot that could destroy two worlds and bring an end to the Arcadia project.

Mishell Baker has created a world and a cast of characters that stands out in a fantasy landscape otherwise filled with a lot of sameness. Millie has both emotional and physical disabilities that affect her daily life. Her characteristics make her unique both in our world and the world of the fey. These difficulties are not presented for pity, but discussed more in terms of their impact on how Millie goes about what she must do. Many of the characters in and around the project, both human and fey, are damaged in different ways. Millie must unravel the mystery while also navigating and manipulating the different personalities involved, her own included.

Baker has built on and expanded the world(s) first created in Borderline, introduced new and interesting characters while deepening the development of the already strong characters who return. This is a compelling novel that pulls you in with well-drawn characters and an ingenious plot. She reveals more about Arcadia and the fey, shedding light on that world and its interaction with our own. Phantom Pains is an outstanding story and part of a series that keeps getting better. Sign me up for whatever Mishell Baker has in store next, because I’ll read it. There is serious writing talent on display here. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: 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.

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