Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Someone is kidnapping women in London and, because a connection to the Split Worlds is suspected, it's Max's job as an Arbiter to find out who. 

Meanwhile, Cathy, a resident of Aquae Sulis who has been hiding out in Mundanus, has been caught and forced to return in time to take part in the new season. It's here that her signed and sealed engagement will be announced, as long as her family can keep her recent rebellion under wraps. 

Max would normally never deign to work with someone from Aquae Sulis but when it's discovered that the Master of Ceremonies, Cathy's own uncle, has gone missing, he may not have a choice. Corruption and conspiracy in Exilium seems to be spreading into the Nether and is beginning to leach out into Mundanus, something Max and Cathy both have an interest in stopping as soon as possible. 

Between Two Thorns introduced readers to Emman Newman's Split Worlds series with its release back in 2013, along with books two and three in the series. Now, the good folks over at Diversion Books have not only rereleased Between Two Thorns, Any Other Name, and All Is Fair, but they're also about to release a brand spanking new installment in the series, A Little Knowledge.

If, like me, you missed your chance with the series when it initially released, now's the perfect time to give it a try.

The Split Worlds is an intricately built setting encompassing three different worlds - Exilium, the prison world where the fae have been relegated; the Nether, where the fae's favorites reside; and Mundanus, our world.

Cathy's family lives in the Nether under the patronage of Lord Poppy, one of many fae nobles currently residing in Exilium. Cathy strains under the rigid life the Nether offers - one of rules and conformity akin to the Victorian era. And though her own life is split initially between Mundanus and the Nether (people don't age in the Nether) her exposure to Mundanus culture and technology in particular are strictly controlled. But Cathy manages to break free, temporarily, by earning permission to attend college in Mundanus. It's the perfect opportunity to escape and live life the way she wants to. Until she's caught by no less than Lord Poppy himself.

The politics and rules of the worlds of this series are quite detailed and, unfortunately, require quite a bit of set up and explanation. The result is that, while highly readable and entertaining, Between Two Thorns does begin somewhat confusingly for the reader. The story bounces around a lot between a variety of narrators, leaving the reader to glean various bits and pieces of the world building through these characters' eyes. So, for example, it's unclear when we meet Max, exactly what an Arbiter is and does. It's also unclear how the Nether and Exilium work, at least until Cathy herself is returned to the Nether, which may be understandably frustrating for some readers.

Fortunately, as the story progresses things do begin to become clearer. You kind of just have to muddle through the beginning and trust that things are going to begin making sense sooner rather than later.

It's helpful that the characters introduced are likable. Max is, for all intents and purposes, something of a PI. Cathy is a willful and clever girl who longs to be who she wants to be rather than who society says she should be, Sam is trapped in a friction-filled marriage, and Will - like Cathy - struggles with his parents' and patron's expectations versus his own hopes and dreams. The latter character presents an interesting and somewhat opposing force to Cathy, though, because we the readers aren't quite sure if we should trust him. Through him we get more of the Nether conditions Cathy herself finds so stifling and frustrating.

Between Two Thorns does end with lots of questions left unanswered, making this a great series to binge on if you're craving some fun urban fantasy!

Rating: 4/5

The ebook editions of the first three titles are all currently available from Diversion Books. Book four, A Little Knowledge, hits shelves on August 2. I'll be posting a review of book four that very day and I'll also be offering up a copy of Between Two Thorns!

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