If we could use our minds to make others see what we wanted them to see, rearrange people’s internal organs and dissolve their musculature, call animals to do our every bidding, or know others’ thoughts as intimately as our own, wouldn’t we rule the world? Or would we be so preoccupied with fighting with others like us that humans would be mere pawns, little worth toying with? Or, even worse, would we be so damaged by our powers that we would be dangerous to ourselves and others?
These are all questions posed by Ayize Jama-Everett’s short, powerful first novel, The Liminal People. Jama-Everett’s first person narrator, Taggert, introduces himself while in the midst of conducting a drug sale he is conducting on behalf of his mentor, Nordeen Maximus. Taggert is able to keep the transaction from going sour by putting his would-be assassins to sleep with a mental nudge, a skill he’s developed from his greater ability to manipulate his own and others’ bodies on a molecular level. The deal resolves in his favor, not surprisingly given his advantage, and he returns to his home near Al Hoceima in Morocco. There, he finds a recorded message from Yasmine Petalas, a woman from his past with her own mental ability – to manipulate fire – who broke his heart. She is calling to tell him she needs him, and he must come quickly.
Taggert obtains Nordeen’s permission to leave the country, doing his best to avoid Nordeen’s questions but compelled nonetheless to reveal that Yasmine is “like us”; Nordeen would know if he was lying, apparently as part of his own ability. Taggert makes his way to London, telling us his back story (including his history with Yasmine) as he travels. Once there, he finds that Yasmine is married to a diplomat. Yasmine charges him with finding her daughter, Tamara, who is gifted with telekinesis. No one knows whether Tamara has simply run away or has been kidnapped, and no one knows whether it has anything to do with her ability or merely her status as the daughter of a diplomat.
From that point forward, the book is in high gear for adventure, though Jama-Everett never loses sight of the philosophical and moral points, particularly with regard to the responsibilities inherent – or not – in having great power. When Taggart finds Tamara, he finds himself schooling her in the use of her power, both in a practical, how-to sense, and in a moral sense, trying to explain when it is proper to use her power and when it is not. It’s an odd lesson coming from a man who has often used his own power in order to run drugs and other contraband in and out of Africa, and Taggart finds himself examining his own life as well.
The Liminal People is an excellent first novel full of insightful characters – however gradually they may gain that insight – engaged in a battle that seems to have only just begun. I’m hoping that this novel is the first in a series, as Jama-Everett has built a world and peopled it with characters about which and whom I wish to know more.