Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman is the first in the exciting new fantasy series, The Split Worlds.
This book sets up an interesting premise of three alternate worlds which exist alongside each other but rarely interact. First, there is the world of Mundanus, or the human world, which is held apart from any sort of magic and secretly policed by Arbiters, who ensure that there is no illegal magic use. Then there is the world of Exilium, or the Fae world, in which the Fae lords are exiled but allowed to use their magic as they wish, with dangerous consequences for those who enter. Between Mundanus and Exilium is the world of the Nether, which mirrors Mundanus and is home to the high society of magical Fae-touched mortals.
This high society is dominated by prominent families all vying to be more powerful than each other. The society is practically Victorian in its attitudes and fashions, as they attend balls in extravagant gowns and try to make suitable marriage matches for their children. Mortals cannot age in the Nether, and it is only by visiting Mundanus that they can grow old, and it is where their children are sent to grow up.
It is into this high society that one of our protagonists, Cathy Rhoeas-Papaver, is born, and it was her perspective that really made me enjoy this novel. When we first meet her, she has been on the run from her family for 18 months in Mundanus, where she would much prefer to live rather than in the Nether. She has freedom, has made a life for herself amongst the humans and has found love with a Mundane (a human to you and me).
However, all this is set to come crashing down around her when her family’s Fae lord seeks her out and removes her secrecy charms. She is sent straight back to high society and into a family that merely regard her as an object, with her father desperate to marry her off to eligible bachelor, Will Iris. This will cement the ties between the two families, but Cathy’s time in Mundanus is concealed and her wilful spirit must be controlled in order for the match to be successful.
Our other protagonist of the novel is Max, an arbiter in Mundanus who discovers that there is something amiss in the world when young, blonde females begin to go missing. Arbiters have removed their souls from their bodies to keep emotions from clouding their judgements, but are able to communicate with them via the use of gargoyles. However, for Max this connection goes horribly wrong when a murder attempt leaves his soul trapped in the body of the gargoyle, with the gargoyle then following him around.
His investigations lead him to the house of a mad sorcerer, whose inventions help the arbiters to carry out their field work. Max discovers that the Master of Ceremonies is missing, who also happens to be Cathy’s uncle, a powerful man in the Nether. His disappearance coincides with the appearance of the Gallica-Rosas into Aquae Sulis (the Nether mirror of Bath), a family whom those in power would prefer kept to their home turf of Londinium (London in the Nether).
These two events seem too coincidental to be unrelated, with Cathy playing a major role in putting together the pieces of the mystery. This mystery was somewhat confusing for me in the beginning, as I wasn’t quite sure how the two plotlines would come together, or how they could be related. Particularly as there is a third interweaving plotline of a human, Sam, it became difficult to decipher the relevance of each character’s individual perspectives.
By the ending of the book I was pleasantly surprised, as the author brings everything together nicely and each character’s story holds some significance over the finale. There were some surprising twists at the end, and a lot of the story is left open for the subsequent books, especially where Max is concerned.
I particularly loved Cathy as a character, as she was strong and knew her own mind, despite her family and society trying to control her. She is staging her own quiet rebellion and is constantly looking for any opportunity to escape. I could really empathise with her plight, especially when she had to leave her human boyfriend and how that particular subplot pans out. She is also intelligent and exactly what I’d look for in an ideal heroine. Her discourse with her fiancé Will is particularly amusing, as she makes it quite clear that there are other places she’d rather be.
However, for me the book was let down with Max’s perspective, as he began as an interesting character, especially with the gargoyle connection, but didn’t seem to develop in the same way as Cathy. I often felt a little confused when reading his chapters, as it felt like there was some missing information that was yet to be revealed but that you were expected to know already. I feel like Max needed a bit more development in this first book, and I’m hoping that we’ll find out more about him in book two.
For a first book in a series, this definitely grabbed my attention as I loved the idea of the parallel Fae world. It was intriguing that this world should be so backward with its Victorian ideals, and I really want to know if Cathy will manage to escape back into Mundanus freedom, and be reunited with her boyfriend. There are several loose ends that I’m hoping are resolved in book two, and I look forward to discovering more about the characters, particularly Will, as it feels like most of the characters have something to hide…
This was a well-crafted fantasy novel which makes a great start to a new series, and with there being so much corruption in the society I can’t wait to see what happens next. Although the alternate world of the Nether still needs a little work, I really enjoyed the character development and how the different plot ties come together at the end.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- Between Two Thorns
- Any Other Name
- All Is Fair
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