Emma Newman is a wonderfully charming person on her podcast Tea and Jeopardy. Listening to her always makes me happy. So it was only a matter of time before I picked up one of her books. Look at the pretty covers. Look at them! They almost kept me from reading these books. Why? Because Angry Robot had the same artist design the covers for very different books (by different authors), giving an incredibly wrong impression of what readers will find inside.
Published by: Angry Robot, 2013
Ebook: 400 pages
Series: The Split Worlds #1
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: The night in Bath was the third time Sam’s beer bladder had got him into trouble.
Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.
The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.
There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.
But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?
These books sound so much up my alley that I should have picked them up on publication day. Evil fairies, court intrigue, magic, the real world, a girl who fights for her rights… The reason I didn’t is fairly simple (and also a little sad). The cover artist also did a cover for another book which I hated (the book, not the cover). And so, despite loving the artwork and design, I immediately associated all the bad things about That Other Book* with Emma Newman’s trilogy. Then, after listening to a few episodes of her charming podcast last week, I needed to read the Split Worlds series, never mind the covers.
How delighted I was to discover – again, prejudice on my part – that this wasn’t a YA book and it didn’t feature teenage protagonists. I have nothing against children’s fiction (as my attentive readers will well know) but I just wasn’t in the mood for more pubescent hormonal romance drama that happens to have fairies in it. Between two Thorns is none of that. It features adult protagonists in their twenties or early thirties, which made it all the more interesting to see them deal with this other world that happens to exist next to their own.
The main protagonist is probably Cathy, the rebel daughter of a Fae-touched family, who ran away from home to live in our world, Mundanus, and enjoy everything modern life has to offer. Science Fiction books, movies, videogames, and – oh yes! – human rights. Her home world, the Nether, is a reflection of cities in our world, but the Nether got stuck in the Victorian age. Sure, this gives it some wonderful flair and gorgeously polite dialogue, but it also makes life as a young woman pure hell. Being married off to a stranger is not Cathy’s idea of happiness, so she made a new life for herself in our world. Except, her family are now on to her and will drag her back no matter what she does.
A parallel storyline tells of Max, an Arbiter investigating a mystery in a very noir-ish fashion. He is a sort of peace-keeper between the Fae, the Fae-touched, and us mundanes. While the Fae stay mostly tucked away in the third parallel world, Exilium, they can visit our world, just as Cathy does. And everyone who has ever read some mythology knows that fairies are usually up to no good. In fact, the worst thing that can happen to you is for a fairy to grant you three wishes. You are bound to get something wrong and the fairy will delight in making your life miserable. Charming creatures, really…
As happens frequently, I was drawn to the side characters, and I must commend Emma Newman for her job. Will, the young man that Cathy is supposed to marry for political reasons, seemed like an arrogant and ambitious prick, but showed empathy and humanity when he found out more about Cathy. He is also involved in the not-a-love-triangle. While Cathy had to break up with her mundane boyfriend to cover up for returning to the Nether, Will accepts their engagement as a fact of his high status in society. He tries to make the best of it and get to know Cathy. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t fall for someone else. So you have two likable people who do not want to marry each other, but each have another love interest. I don’t know what you call that exactly, but it is wonderfully done. I couldn’t help but feel with every character involved and want to shake them and scream at them: Just tell her/him!
Apart from fantastic characters, Emma Newman manages beautifully to juxtapose our world with the Nether and made me appreciate my life all the more. Cathy speaks like a regular person (to us readers) but sounds like an alien to her family. When she finally meets a mundane who understands her pop culture references, I felt all her relief and wanted to high-five repeatedly just her for being cool.
The outline of a door burnt into the grass around them and Cathy pulled him [Sam] up and outside of the rectangular shape. Before he could complain, the grassy door swung inwards, revealing the room below. The doorway appeared to have opened in the wall of the room.
“Oh, man, that breaks my brain.”
“It’s like Portal,” Cathy said.
For all that praise, the beginning was hard to get into. The view points changed a bit fast and I didn’t know who everyone was yet. Introducing the story with a minor character, Sam, probably wasn’t the smartest idea, although that scene is what kicks everything else off. In addition (and this is a good thing), Emma Newman did her very best to stay away from infodumps. So it is up to the reader to figure things out for a while. Eventually, we get little snippets that explain how the Split Worlds are set up, how politics in the Nether work, what an Arbiter’s job is. But at the beginning, full attention is required to keep up with the characters, story and worldbuilding. Did I mention there were gargoyles? With souls? Yeah. Add that to your list of awesome.
I am so happy I got over my cover art prejudice (that’s marketing for you) and read this book. The story grew on me and got better and better over time. In the end, one mystery is solved, but another, much bigger one, is still wide open. Emma Newman also managed to leave Cathy’s story hanging on quite the cliffhanger, so you know what I’ll be reading over the holidays.
MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very, very good!
The Split Worlds Series:
- Between Two Thorns
- Any Other Name
- All Is Fair
* Fine I’ll tell you. It was Cassandra Rose Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse. (I don’t lake hating books but if you want to read my rant, here it is)
Related articles and other reviews:
- 178. Emma Newman (a.k.a. Tea & Cake) – The Split Worlds Trilogy (skiffyandfanty.com)
- Review – Between Two Thorns (breathesbooks.wordpress.com)
- “Between Two Thorns” by Emma Newman (Reviewed by Sabine Gueneret) (http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.co.at)
- My Favorite Bit: Emma Newman Talks About Between Two Thorns (maryrobinettekowal.com)
- Book Review: Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman (sfsignal.com)