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Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Order The Liminal People over HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I was raised on comic books. I read them and reread them dozens of times until they fell apart. I remember the look my parents gave me when I told them that I wanted to be an X-Man once I grow up. I guess they wanted a different career for me. And yet all I wanted to do was to go to X-Mansion , hang out with superpowered kids and go on adventures. Sure, I had some backup plans, but this was my dream.

Sadly, things didn’t go as planned. As I’m not gifted with omega level mutant power, I finished as an HR Consultant and part-time yoga teacher. Not exactly Wolverine. Heck, not even Cypher who's the lamest X-men ever.

I accepted my fate. If one day, I grow claws and teleport myself to Paris to grab a coffee and a croissant for breakfast, I’ll let you know. For now, though, I still enjoy superheroes, especially the ones with the mutant superpowers. I still follow some comic book series, but I have an impression that Marvel lost a sense of direction a bit.

As books were always my true love, I’ve been trying to find good books about superheroes. I loved The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, but couldn’t get into most books in the genre. And I tried and tried more than few times in recent years.

That's why I didn’t expect much when starting The Liminal People. The cover isn’t exactly exciting, and there’s little information about the book in virtual communities I visit while looking for recommendations. After finishing The Liminal People I can say that it’s one of the best books I read this year. Not the best, but it hits all the right spots. It’s ultra-violent but also layered and complex.

Meet Taggert: "The woman with the smell of donkey sausage on her hands behind me has broken two bones in her life. Ten people have hypertension. Five people are drunk. I’m swimming in their biorhythms."

He’s one of the Liminal People - folks with supernatural powers. Some of them go mad or borderline schizo, while others secretly run large portions of the world. Taggert serves Nardeen Maximus – a terrifying crime lord with mysterious powers. Taggert is a healer. He can perform ten thousand dollars’ worth of dental work in a blink of an eye. He’s able to heal cancer and rebuild himself after being cut into pieces. He can also burn your liver and intestines with lactic acid, turn your stomach into a Swiss cheese-like membrane and fill it with the remains of your bone marrow. He can make you allergic to your blood. The extent of his powers is terrifying, and the author describes them and their applications in vivid, visual and convincing ways. In short, it's better to keep on his right side.

One day he receives a call from the only woman he ever loved. Her daughter is missing. She asks Taggert for help. He risks the wrath of his master to try and save Yasmine’s daughter. It soon becomes apparent the daughter has more power than anyone could imagine. She’s a teenager feeling lost and insecure; her skills make her a killing – machine. Explosive combination. Taggert will have to question a lot of things and go through lots of trauma to keep the girl safe. Taggert is, by nature, impulsive and obsessive. The book is told from his perspective, and it makes good use of his limitations and his nature. While Taggert is quite bright, he doesn’t really understand everything he sees and what’s happening around him. He narrates events but sometimes isn’t the fastest on the uptake and connecting facts. His voice is quite emotional. There’s some underlying dark humour but don’t expect anything a la Abercrombie.

The world building is introduced exclusively through Taggert’s viewpoint. As a result, we don’t get all the answers we would like to get – for example, why do some people have powers or if they’re gods? Despite this, Taggert’s voice is engaging, intimate and intense. It’s one of few books in which I didn’t mind that some loose ends remained loose. It leaves a place for speculation. I’m okay with it.

The prose is interesting. It’ll appeal to some, but for others, it may be difficult to digest. It’s most creative, visual and robust, but at times it becomes a bit melodramatic. Some similes are over-the-top or purplish. Here’s an example:

"Yasmine’s voice sends my heart into spasms again. Cayenne-flavored honey. Extended vowels to cover a slight lisp. Well-manicured teeth massaged by a tongue that’s mastered so many languages she gets them confused in casual conversations."

It’s important to note Taggert isn’t a noble hero. He’s a killer. When he’s furious, anger and rage fill his thoughts and as readers we experience these outbursts vividly. Here’s Taggert raging:

"I didn't just feel it; I recorded each and every sensation. I can replicate each one. I will. I'll play it back plus ten for the bastard that caused my love to fall. And before they go down, I'll wet the concrete with their brain matter. I'll explode their marrow out of their bones and make a mess of their capillaries. I'll make a paste of their eyes, I promise. I'll make them bleed from their ears and turn their digestive system against them. They'll digest their own organs. I'll increase their pain receptors so that their clothes feel like sandpaper. I'll make their own breath sound like a DC-10 is landing in their chest. I'll fill their lungs with every excessive fluid in their body I can find. I'll make a decomposing mess of them, I swear I will. They'll pray to gods they don't believe in for the pain to end before I explode each taste bud in their mouth and inflame their genitals with the stray parasites they immune system usually fights off."

Nice bloke, right?

I liked the way villains and side-characters were written. Apart from one character who’s rotten to the bone, other are complex and morally ambiguous. I like grey tones as they sustain the gritty and haunting atmosphere that’s both thrilling and horrifying. The heroes and villains dance the line between humans and gods. The powers displayed in the book are nothing new in concept, but the way they are applied is creative and convincing. The prose helps to feel how it would be to experience them in gritty details:

"Since I’m at a toilet I vomit up sixty-five pounds, making sure to check my discharge for too much stomach acids. I just need to lose the pounds, not my voice."

Suddenly, shape-shifting sounds less fun.

CONCLUSION: The Liminal People is a fantastic novel about superheroes that touches many vital subjects (family, race, faith) in an entertaining and moving way. The prose is very vivid and, for me, it made this tale. The strength isn’t in the plot that’s relatively easy to predict but in the voice of the narrator with all his emotions and phobias present in the language. The book is violent, and some of the body's transformations performed by Taggert may hunt you for a long time. I highly recommend it to all X-Men aspirants.


Rick Robinson said...

I find the cover so awful I wouldn't bother to pick this book up. Too bad, you make it sound interesting. Why, oh why do they put terrible covers on good books?


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