Thoughts: The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett

liminal people

Taggert, the main character of Ayize Jama-Everett’s debut novel The Liminal People, is one of a growing number of people with supernatural powers, called the liminal people. Taggert’s power is his ability to heal, which also gives him the abilitiy to read body functions, change and stop them. The Liminal People reads like a superhero comic told in a noir prose style. Now, there are a lot of superhero stories in lots of mediums available at the moment, and I’m usually hesitant when it comes to this trope. But The Liminal People gripped me and drew me in, and I found Jama-Everett’s work manages to offer a fresh spin on the genre.

Taggert is part of the razorneck crew in Morocco, hired muscle to the mysterious and extremely dangerous Nordeen. When his ex-girlfriend calls for his help in finding her missing daughter, Taggert asks for leave and flies to London’s seedy underbelly. In a smart move, the author tells the story in the first person perspective from Taggert’s point of view. He presents something of an anti-hero, acting in a morally ambiguous area between his power as a healer and his work interrogating and harming others and liminal people with his abilities under Nordeen. His relationship with his boss is more of master-slave than mentor-mentee relationship, and over the course of the story, Taggert comes to seek freedom and his own version of a family.

In a genre that still loves white characters, a Black superhero main character is a welcome change. And not only is Taggert a complex character but he is furthermore allowed to be an anti-hero. I also loved the global aspect of the book, showing us characters of color as on the move and at home in different countries, travelling and making connections in all of them. The whole cast of characters is diverse and the author’s willingness to adress such issues as racism and slavery is one strong aspect of what sets The Liminal People apart from most superhero stories we are flooded with everyday. Because Taggert’s powers over bodies also means that he is capable of altering his appearance, and so he is very aware of how stature and lightening his skin tone allow for entering different spaces. This is a wonderful perspective from which to comment on issues of race and class. This is how you demonstrate the perspective of characters of color, the everyday issues, without it being the plot of the story.

I may have one or two nitpicks with Taggert’s approach to the female characters but overall this is a strong story with good pacing and wonderful world-building. Having the stomach for genre-typical violence is a requirement but other than that definitely recommended, I am looking forward to seeing this author and his stories grow. The one benefit to always being late to reading exciting books is that there’s already a sequel out. The second book is called The Liminal War and there’s also a spin-off, The Entropy of Bones, available already. This is the second novel I’ve read in a short time that was published by Small Beer Press. I’m happy to see some of their books offered on Scribd, so that I get to try them. I think I need to browse their catalogue!

The Liminal People counts towards the Diversity on the Shelf challenge as well as the #weirdathon.

What’s your favorite superpowers novel? 

Have you reviewed this book? Let me know and I’ll add a link!

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13 thoughts on “Thoughts: The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett

  1. Sadly I can’t think of a superpowers novel I’ve read…although I’m sure I must have at some point. I also love coming to exciting series late so I can line the books up – I don’t like waiting!

    1. It is great, isn’t it? I did that with HP and only had to wait with everyone else for the last two books to come out 🙂

  2. God, what IS my favorite superpowers novel? And I LOVE superpowers! Surely I should have an easy favorite, but actually I can’t think of anything. Apart from, obviously, I really like the first two X-Men movies. I think those are really swell.

    I agree with you about Small Beer Press, also. I was just looking at Sofia Samatar’s newest book from them, and remembering that they also published The Liminal People, and thinking I should really oughta seek out more books from their list.

    1. The Liminal People is frequently compared to X-Men 🙂 Might have to try more superpowers stories, I just don’t like that the US ones are so often tied into nationalism.
      They do seem to publish great books, I still want to read some Kelly Link and Somatar is also on my list.

  3. This sounds SO good. I want to read this. And, it also made me realise that I haven’t read books that had people with superpowers. Trying hard to recall one. No. 🙂 So, I am going for this.

    1. Heh, I hope you’ll enjoy this one then. Oh and you also plan to read Faith right? More superpowers are in your reading future! 😀

  4. I like how the superpowers are a vehicle for discussing issues of race and class – very clever.

    Speculative fiction will always have my heart, so I’m glad we have been seeing more diverse stories in the genre over the last couple of decades.

    To answer your question, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a novel about superpowers either. That’s a strange realization :s

    1. Heh sounds like we can all use more superpowers stories 🙂
      Yes I did enjoy the gender and class issues a lot, because often with superheros in US narratives I’ve really disliked the nationalism and so haven’t read as much of this genre.
      Yay I love speculative fiction, too, it took me a while to get to this genre but I’m so happy to have discovered many amazing writers this way.

  5. Wonderful review, Bina. The superpower of the liminal people is interesting and complex. Not the regular superhero stuff. I love that. I also love the name of the publishing company – Small Beer press 🙂 Thanks to you, I have got to know about one more interesting novelist. Which country is Jama-Everett from? It looks like African science / dystopian / fantasy / superhero fiction is rocking right now 🙂

    1. Thanks Vishy 🙂 Hah yes I love their name, too. I do hope you’ll enjoy the book the superpowers trope is fascinating but also complex as you noted. I don’t actually know, I think he might be from the US. But Black scifi is certainly rocking right now! 🙂

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