Review: Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Between Two Thorns (The Split Worlds #1)
Emma Newman

Angry Robot
Released February 26, 2013
384 pages
Urban Fantasy / Faeries / Mystery

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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?

Sometimes I come across books where I just don’t seem to have words to review them. Often it’s because they left me in a quivering mess of raw emotion that I will wallow in for days. Other times it’s because the world is so well built, so vivid, so complex that pushing it to arm’s length to analyze it is near impossible. Between Two Thorns was the later, making it difficult to go to bed at night because I needed to read just one more chapter. Making me crave reading time at incredibly inappropriate times of the day, like sitting in a meeting with my boss or on a call with a client. I expected withdrawal shakes to set in at any moment.

Emma Newman has created a world where faeries make sense, one that I want to crawl in and sit in a corner as all the madness unfolds. It’s filled with characters both odd and oddly human though at its core, it’s just a who-done-it with a lot of growingly complex character interactions laid over top. In The Split Worlds, there are essentially four sets of people, a concept that, having started reading the book in a near comatose exhaustion, was a bit hard to follow until about 50 pages in. There’s the real world, the one we mundanes trudge through everyday life and the place the Arbiters – humans with their souls detached from their bodies and stored elsewhere – assist magicians from the whims and tricks of faeries.

Then there’s the Nether, where faerie-touched humans live in a silver skied twilight world where time doesn’t mean growing old and society manners from the 18th century are still firmly in play. Each faerie-touched human answers to a faerie patron and essentially represents him or her in the complex play of politics. And finally there’s Exhilim, where the faerie lords and ladies frolic and plan elaborate troublesome plots to play in the lives of their human subjects. These faeries are literal beings, conniving and meddlesome with a knack for causing humans to talk themselves into potential mortal danger. In theory the worlds are meant to stay apart, but then what sort of shenanigans can occur in such a series if the tricksters are kept from the tricked?

Cathy is a faerie-touched human, who hates life in the Nether. She runs away into Mundanus (what they call the normal world) to live as a normal human – university, geeky boyfriend, a flat in Bath, the works of normality. Unfortunately her family and the family’s faerie patron have other wishes for her future and she is found, dragged back to the Nether and forced to stand aside as she’s sold off to William in a marriage she does not want. It’s all very Victorian and seeing it through the eyes of the feisty, unorthodox Cathy is a nice contrast to seeing it through the eyes of the privileged William, who doesn’t understand why his fiancée won’t just shut up, at least pretend to be happy and act like a decent woman should. It pleased me that William is still an incredibly decent and nice guy, just one who has been indoctrinated into the ways of his society. He is willing to make concessions to his moody bride-to-be if only she would attempt to follow the rules of society in public.

There are assorted other characters including Sam, a normal human with the bad luck of drinking too much and tripping over the plot to kidnap a very important member of Nether society only to have his memories firmly locked away. Lord Poppy, the faerie patron of Cathy’s family, and Ekstrand, the magician of Bath, are equally bizarre with the quirks and touchiness often found in faeries and wizards. Max, the luckless Arbitor, has his world falling apart around his ears, several mysteries to unwrap and a severely damaged leg. And a large stone gargoyle who happens to become animated by Max’s own detached soul. More books need large sarcastic emo stone gargoyle sidekicks. That should be the next supernatural trend in YA.

There is so much in this book that is awesome. The storytelling is quick-paced and so neatly integrated that despite the large cast of characters, I never felt like I was losing track of anyone. The worlds are distinctively separate yet equally vivid while the characters are quirky, entertaining and enjoyable to follow around for 380 pages. I’m actually very glad this is the beginning of a series because I want more of this world, more of these characters and more of this insanity. Newman has created a great complex universe that seems to have a million different stories embedded into its walls.

In a world full of supernatural and urban fantasy books, Between Two Thorns stands out as the start of a uniquely developed series that deserves everyone’s full attention.


I received an advanced copy of this book from Angry Robot, which might be the best publisher name ever in the history of publishers. The views and opinions are my own.