Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman is an offbeat urban fantasy published by Angry Robot Books. This is the first book in The Split Worlds trilogy (maybe series?), and all three books were published in 2013. Despite the rapid rate of publication, it is clear that these books have not been rushed, that a lot of time and effort has been put in, and I look forward to reading this series in its entirety.
Between Two Thorns does a lot of work upfront establishing a very complex setting. There are basically three realms - Mundanus which is our world where the humans (or mundanes) live, Exilium which is a fantastical world where the powerful fae live, and The Nether, a bubble of a world that exists in between Mundanus and Exilium, a world where the fae-touched people live, a world that seems to be a perpetual Victorian court society. Newman goes to a lot of effort with regards to the world building early in this book, and while I think it makes for a better story in the long run, I found that it took nearly 100 pages before I was really hooked by this story. I know it's probably a hard sell, but if you are having trouble getting into this book I hope that you give it at least 100 pages because I think the story delivered by the end of the book is worth that upfront investment.
With the setting addressed, I can get onto the important part. The story follows two lead characters; Cathy, an adventurous young fae-touched woman living in the Mundanus city of Bath where she struggles to evade the clutches of her restrictive family and the overbearing society, and Max, a human arbiter whose job is to police the behaviour of the fae-touched visiting Mundanus. While Cathy and Max lead off with distinctly separate stories, they come together around halfway through the book when Cathy's uncle is kidnapped from The Nether and taken somewhere in Mundanus.
There is a lot going on this story, with interesting plot threads flying off in all different directions. At times it feels like there is too much to keep track of, but Newman does a great job of keeping all the important plot threads in check and making sure we get the information we need to know at the right time. While some big threads remain remain unresolved throughout the first book, many of them join up and are tied off in one fell swoop, resulting in what I thought was a very satisfying conclusion.
There is a big cast of characters who have all been crafted rather effectively, but I feel like Cathy received the majority of the development work. Cathy has been brought up in a restrictive world as an object whose main goal in life is to increase her value as a commodity by being seen, not heard. The strength of her character is the resolve she shows in continuously trying to break the shackles placed on her by the world she lives in. It was a little difficult to connect with her early in the story, but as her backstory starts to unfold, my empathy for her plight started to increase, as did my understanding of her actions.
The other lead character, Max, is a very straight forward no-nonsense guy, whose emotions have been artificially shackled so that he can work as an incorruptible arbiter of Mundanus. He is very much a blank slate, and while this makes for some great plots, it doesn't make him particularly relatable, or even likeable. His character progression is clearly dependent on the resolution of plot points, so while he may be little dull during this first book, I expect him to show a lot of growth across the rest of the series.
Between Two Thorns took me a long time to get into, but I am glad I persevered. This book has all the things I like - mass murder, rebellion, gargoyles, secret police, hidden worlds, evil fairies, politics, balls, and more. Between Two Thorns is a great introduction and I can't wait to see what happens next.
Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman
Angry Robot, February 25, 2013
Review by Ryan Lawler
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