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Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman
4.5
Book Name: Between Two Thorns
Author: Emma Newman
Publisher(s): Angry Robot
Formatt: Paperback / Audio Book
Genre(s): Fantasy / Urban Fantasy
Release Date: March 7, 2013

Magic is closer than any of us could imagine; hidden but powerful, existing parallel to our own world. Perhaps even in your own living room, only a thin veil away.

Between Two Thorns (cover)That’s the concept behind the Split Worlds, in which Between Two Thorns is set. Emma Newman sums up the Split Worlds perfectly as: “an urban fantasy setting with gritty noir, fantastical magic, evil faeries and people just trying to drink their tea in peace.”

There’s a magical realm, the Nether, layered over the top of our own, a kind of in-between step separating the mundane world from the supernatural. Arbiters, a police force dedicated to controlling magic and protecting Mundanus, and much hated by those who have magic, pass between the Nether and the human world, keeping order. They have exiled the Fae lords to the realm of Exilium, but, though the Fae may be banned from involving themselves in the mundane world, but they have plenty of human servants to manipulate in the Nether. These come in the form of old, aristocratic families who are each associated with a specific Fae, their Patroon. Cathy, one of the main characters of the novel, comes from the Rhoeas-Papaver family, tied to Lord Poppy.

These families are rich, snobby, and traditionalist, living in the Nether, maintaining a society that would seem more at home in the Regency period. It’s therefore appropriate that much of the book takes place in Bath, and in its magical counterpart in the Nether, Aquae Sulis. Cathy can’t stand the stuffiness and oppression of her world, and so she has escaped into Mundanus. Here she discovers the joy of jeans and unrestrictive clothing, video games, and endless cups of tea. She would give anything not to be dragged back to the Nether, but it is not only her furious parents and anxious brother who are searching for her – Lord Poppy is also on her trail.

Cathy is a very likeable character and easy to relate to. What I like best about her is that she doesn’t lose sight of what she wants. Where other characters might find themselves won over by luxury, by a romanticised idea of the Regency period, or by a dashing hero-character, Cathy remains unimpressed, and I was glad she gave everyone a hard time. Even when she is helpless to change her situation, she retains a kind of calm determination and capability, constantly looking out for ways to escape or to use circumstances to her advantage.

But Cathy is just one of the excellent main characters of the book. There’s also Max, one of the Arbiters, whose souls are dislocated from their bodies and secreted away in the cloisters of their Arbiter Chapters in order to keep them utterly focussed on their mission. Arbiters report back to their Chapters by communicating with their souls, using statues as vessels. Max is investigating the possible abduction of mortals into Exilium when his Chapter is destroyed in a mysterious attack. His link to the Chapter is severed and his soul becomes permanently trapped inside a gargoyle, which now follows him around, offering unsolicited advice like a really big, very ugly Jiminy Cricket. This leads to some brilliant scenes, and the dynamic between Max and his gargoyle-soul is perfect.

Other characters include Sam, a bewildered mortal thrown into a sudden and unexpected magical mystery, and Will, Cathy’s betrothed, an arrogant but well meaning man who soon finds himself stuck in the middle of the Rosa family’s scheming (the thorns of the title). Quickly, the different plot threads begin to twist together: a missing dignitary, a Sorceror trying to find him, abducted mortals, scheming Fae, the attack on the chapter house, the Rosa family’s plans, Will and Cathy’s engagement, and poor Sam’s odd memory loss. And then there’s Cathy’s three wishes, forced on her by the enigmatic Lord Poppy, not to mention the Fae lord’s strange and sinister fascination with her.

The story is well-paced, roaring forwards in Max’s sections, slowing down in Aquae Sulis as family rivalry and scheming is revealed. By the end of the story several mysteries and plot points have been resolved, and though others are left hanging for the sequel, Emma Newman has managed to keep the ending satisfying. She has also combined a lot of very different elements in one book without it ever feeling disjointed or forced. There’s a Regency feel alongside a very modern Britain, Sorcerers, ritual magic, magical objects and the Fae, different realms, a grisly detective character whose sections even have a slight noir-ish feel, and a mystery involving plotting families. The story is packed full of wonderful ideas that keep the story constantly moving.

The world and its magic is well realised and presented beautifully; it feels completely natural and believable that magic would exist so close to the mundane, but it is also kept mysterious, allowing the magic to still feel…well, magical. In this, I thought it had a similar kind of feeling to the world of Harry Potter, or to books by Diana Wynne Jones, or to anything written by Neil Gaiman, whose style is very similar to Emma Newman’s writing in many ways. This book was not only enjoyable; it gave me a sense of delight like I haven’t found for a while in fantasy books written for adults. And there’s something about Between Two Thorns that feels so cosily British, too.

I also have to note how much I loved the Fae, who, though they only appear briefly, were written brilliantly. I’ve always imagined faeries as being something like the Daedric Lords from the Elder Scrolls video game series: in other words, crazy as a box of frogs and operating on a wildly different form of morality. Their favourite pastime being messing with humans. The Fae of the Split Worlds were spot on in this respect.

Between Two Thorns won’t be out until next year, but the Split Worlds have existed and have been building for quite some time now. It began as a self-publishing project to put out a short story set in the Split Worlds for a year and day while building up to the release of the first book. This caught the attention of Angry Robot Books, who are now publishing the series, beginning with the first book, Between Two Thorns. The short stories were halted while the details of the publishing contract were being sorted, but they have now resumed, and you can sign up to receive one a week by email, or you can read them online here. I’d really recommend checking some of them out.

Between Two Thorns is magical, exciting, and clever. It manages to conjure a world that feels completely natural but also mysterious, sometimes dangerous, sometimes funny, combining several different kinds of urban fantasy into one story, and capturing a lovely sense of modern Britishness that is reminiscent of other fantastic British fantasy. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel!

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Rating: 9.8/10 (4 votes cast)
Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman, 9.8 out of 10 based on 4 ratings
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3 Comments

  1. [...] first review of Between Two Thorns came out a little while ago and I almost threw up when I was sent the link to it. I had to go [...]

  2. [...] since the Split Worlds project was launched. Two of the characters in this story are also in Between Two Thorns, the first Split Worlds novel being released in the UK on the 7th of March (cue hyperventilating). [...]

  3. [...] here or you can follow her on Twitter here. You can also read our reviews of Between Two Thorns here and here, or read her guest post on the evolution of her world [...]

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