The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett
|Book Name:||The Liminal People|
|Publisher(s):||Small Beer Press|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Science Fiction|
|Release Date:||January 10, 2012|
The word limen in Latin means “a threshold”, and in modern context, the word liminal can be interpreted as a state between one or the other, often in reference to spiritual or social concepts. The Liminal People is a novel that exists between genres, weaving through them with impunity. It is an international crime thriller, a detective story, bordering on superheroes and demigods, encompassed within a meditation on morality and mortality.
The protagonist, whose name we know only as Taggert, is a healer. He has the innate ability to manipulate bodies, his own or others, for good or ill. When we first meet him, he is part of the razor-neck crew, drug dealers and smugglers working for a shadowed leader. Our protagonist receives a message from a long lost lover, at a number no one ever calls. His journey takes him to London, where he must help this old flame track down her missing daughter, a girl with immense power. Caught between the past and the present, Taggert must survive threats from enemies and allies alike.
The locales are splendid and evocative, from abandoned subway tunnels and posh hotels to the ports and the harsh deserts and savannah of Africa. Taggert’s story takes him from Morocco to Marseilles and London, and through Africa as we delve into his past. We encounter warlords and peasants, giving us as readers a view into power as it relates to class and race, from rural to urban, and even into the nature of godhood.
The powers on display are amazing in and of themselves. Taggert’s body manipulation is heavily rooted in medical science. He adjusts bone density to make himself taller or shorter. To blend in with upper class London society, he lightens the melanin in his skin (which becomes tied into the plot very nicely). In the opening scene of the novel, he uses his power to put three snipers into a deep sleep, rather than outright killing them. There are telepaths and telekinetics, pyrokinetics and illusionists and others whose powers are vague and illusive. Each is treated uniquely, both within the tropes of the genre and how they relate to the various characters and their own flaws and foibles.
And while Taggert does his best to avoid killing, this is by no means a bloodless novel. There are all manners of death and violence, as warranted by the plot. The story itself, like the characters that live within it, can be brutal and merciless and is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. That being said, it is incredibly immersive. The world is our own, in our time. The technology is modern, the politics of the mortals very familiar and the moral crisis of the protagonist one that will dig at your center.
Atmosphere is key to the presentation of the story, which is told solely from Taggert’s point of view. As such, the perspective is limited to what Taggert observes, and Taggert himself reserves speculation from what he can actually figure out. As a character, he is very intelligent, if lacking in a certain emotional maturity, which can be more attributed to the pathos of the character than the function of the writing. Moreover, it is fascinating to have a character that is more focused on the heartbeats and breathing of the gunmen he faces than the guns themselves.
From the first page right on through to the end, the story is intriguing and well-paced. The writing is crisp and sharp, with few wasted words. The first person perspective lends itself well to the nature of the story, carrying us with Taggert and helping us to empathize with a man that may be something more. The lines between good and evil, wrong and right, are constantly blurred and crossed over. The novel is just under two hundred pages, making it a quick and engaging read that holds you through the end and leaves you wanting more.
It isn’t without flaws, however. Various character motivations are unclear and even contradictory at times, and while Taggert’s own morally ambiguous nature is appreciated, his interactions with women are a bit shallow. He is either extraordinarily attracted to them, or looking to protect them from a fatherly point of view. There are a few ‘twists’ within the tale, but none that provide much surprise. Still, I would consider this a must read.
The Liminal People invokes what made the first season of Heroes, or the currently running Alphas, excellent. That is to say, The Liminal People takes the ideas of gods and superheroes and roots them firmly in our own world and with very real characters. At the end, the story stands on its own but leaves potential for more stories, whether from the author himself or the reader’s imagination. With a multicultural cast and a unique spin on superpowers and how they cope with themselves and the world around them, this tale of norms and freaks stands as an excellent debut novel from Ayize Jama-Everett.