“Some keys open doors to strange worlds…
Melissa has a happy marriage but her everyday life is a constant battle against pain. She discovers that her artwork can produce magic, prompting her to apply for an artist’s retreat to a mysterious country house. Her old schoolfriends Bettina and Zelda are also at the same retreat. But neither the house nor their friendship is what they think. A mystical library, rapacious shadows, and keys to otherworldly rooms are the links to saving the house from destruction.
A unique fantasy about people whose stories, with all their oddity and excitement, seldom make their way into novels.”
Borderlanders by Australian author Gillian Polack, a contemporary Fantasy and magical realism, introduces the theme early with reference to the Celtic belief in the liminal worlds, and the ability to pass between the past, present, future and other. It is on this premise that Borderlands, as the title suggests, builds its narrative between realities, time and perceptions.
Partially narrated in first-person through the protagonist, Melissa, a happily married, middle-aged artist who’s life is consumed by disabling chronic pain with her artwork providing her only escape and a very real magic. Upon successfully receiving a scholarship to attend a creative retreat in the Southern Highlands of NSW, in a small misty town of Robertson, Melissa finds herself reunited with her old school friends, Bettina and Zelda, both also attending the retreat. The location of the retreat is a rambling estate, a country house that sprawls beyond the mere concept of walls and mortar and where shadows, past and future entwine the characters.
Unlike Melissa, who is narrated in first-person, Bettina and Zelda are narrated through the third-person. This intentional shift from first-person to third-person has the desired effect to separate the reader from Zelda and Bettina, but the unintentional effect of blending their characters to the point of often being indistinguishable in personality (but not history), while Melissa remains isolated, removed and never feeling fully integrated into the story. This may be intentional as Zelda remarks early in the novel when she is lecturing on the Celtic belief in liminality, the concept of worlds and perceptions alongside our own, where the Celtic belief that people could slip into the Otherworld or mortals could be stolen by Fairies, very few ever being returned again. In this sense, Melissa feels like a character that has been stolen by Fairies, existing outside the reality that Bettina and Zelda occupy, but connected to it through a shared and often obsessive focus on small details. This obsession unites all characters, perhaps to indicate their creative personality, but feels far too repetitive, and distracts from the storyline and purpose, too often pulling attention away from the characters, their goals and actions.
Borderlanders was an interesting exploration of the concept of a liminal reality, where perceptions and magic, combine in unique ways that twist the fabrics of reality as we understand it.
** I received a free copy from the publisher in return for an honest review **