Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman (#1 in the Split Worlds trilogy) (Angry Robot, 26 February 2013)
Between Two Thorns is an immensely entertaining fantasy read with a host of engaging characters.
Narrated from four POVs, one of which I enjoyed slightly less than the others, Between Two Thorns has quite a lot going on! The plot is complex and satisfying. It took a few chapters for me to settle into this book because there was quite a lot to take in at first and the book didn’t grab me straightaway, but once it did, it was amazing.
Between Two Thorns describes the Split Worlds: our world, Mundanus, boring and human and sorely lacking in magic, split from Exilium, the world of the dangerous Fae lords, in order to protect the humans. The Nether lies in between, where all the Great Families live as if they’re trapped forever in the Victorian age, and the not-so-dangerous magic happens. Between Two Thorns is mostly set in Aquae Sulis, the part of the Nether which is a reflection of Bath. The Master of Ceremonies has gone missing, and Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is investigating into his disappearance. It seems that his only clue is locked inside the memories of a mundane called Sam, who stumbled upon something he should never have seen when he was walking home drunk one night. And the only person who can help him unlock these memories is Cathy.
Cathy was a resident of Aquae Sulis, but her father was abusive and she felt oppressed by the Victorian mores of the Nether, so she ran away into Mundanus and started living in Manchester on her own. Unfortunately, as the book begins, we find out that her family is finally about to track her down and drag her back to Aquae Sulis. She’s wonderfully strong-willed and resourceful; she’s definitely got a mind of her own, and I love her.
I have gained another book boyfriend! His name is William Iris-Reticulata. He’s the son of one of the Great Families in Aquae Sulis, and he’s just come back from his Grand Tour, travelling around the world as one does upon coming of age, bringing back all these fantastic presents for all his various family members, only to find out that he’s now engaged to Cathy. Very much against both Cathy’s will and his, but he goes along with it to make his father happy. Only, of course, he finds himself entangled in all the trouble that Cathy’s getting into… and he turns out to be incredibly helpful. He’s honestly such a lovely guy, very charming and sweet and kind-hearted and caring.
I really liked how, amidst all the fantasy stuff that’s going on, with the talking gargoyles (well, only one) and the charms and the weird magical artefacts, we get a lot of stuff that’s… well, mundane. But mundane in the best possible way. We get Cathy’s mundane boyfriend, Josh: the story of how they met, as Cathy puzzled over how to use a washing machine, and how they fell in love, through Josh introducing Cathy to movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark – and heartbreakingly, how they break up in this book, how it all goes terribly wrong despite Cathy’s best intentions. We get Sam and his wife, Lianne, and a portrait of their troubled marriage, a fight and a ruined date – and the fragile, fleeting memory of how happy they used to be together, before they got married. I loved how all of this stuff was still so real and beautifully portrayed. I never expect a lot of this in a fantasy book, but there was a surprising amount, and it was really well done.
Between Two Thorns was just so much fun. There are balls and high society shenanigans and family feuds and I absolutely adored spending time with Cathy and Will and witnessing the beginning of their prickly friendship. I can’t wait to read the second book, Any Other Name, and see how their relationship develops.