I liked 'Between Two Thorns', the first in the five book series by Emma Newman known as 'The Split Worlds', once I got settled with it. I really like 'Any Other Name', its first sequel, because it's already comfortable with where it's going and it's much happier about taking us along for the ride. Its biggest problem is that that ride is far from over when we turn the last page.
I should emphasise at this point that this is a series that grows and interweaves and I would highly recommend that any readers interested in it start at the beginning with the first book. It may well be possible to start here (or later) and work backwards, but I don't see that being an easy task for the reader at all. You should grow with it.
So, assuming that you've read the first one, here's where our subplots are...
Cathy has been drugged into the arranged marriage that her parents knew she'd try to escape, so now she's no longer a Rhoeas-Papaver but a Reticulata-Iris, husband to William. Now she's set to do the jobs that Society in the Nether requires of herdutiful wife and fertile motherneither of which she has any interest in being. The question initially is whether she'll manage to find a way to get out and hide again in our world, Mundanus.
Max, the only remaining Arbiter in Bath, is still investigating what happened to his former colleagues. They all died, it seems, when their hearts were literally turned to stone. How that act ties to the apparent corruption he's uncovered in London, he doesn't yet know but he's eager to find out.
Sam, whom we were led to believe was a regular human being and certainly knew nothing of the fae and the fae-touched, finds his life changing considerably. For one, he makes his way back to Exilium on a rescue mission to retrieve the missing humans that he found there on his last trip. That doesn't remotely go as planned and, to be brutally honest, neither does anything else he finds himself involved with.
Of course, these three subplots are intermingling nicely, as the bigger picture starts to become clearer, even as we grow William Reticulata-Iris as a character in his own right and set him on his own subplot. His family has him and his new bride moved to Londinium, London's mirror city on the Nether side of the boundary, where he is tasked with becoming the new Duke, now that the Rosas have fallen from grace. Not an easy task for one so new to the city and its Society.
There's a lot going on here and this book is very much a mixing bowl into which Emma Newman has thrown a set of characters and a set of plots and is happily mixing them together. We don't know what recipe she's using but we do start to see some of what these ingredients might become.
For a start, Cathy may well have found her mission. She always wanted to escape the Nether, obtain her degree and become a human rights lawyer, ironic, of course, given that she's not human. Her new position in Society is making every aspect of that incredibly difficult, but as she starts to mingle and host and greet, she starts to see a purpose in the Nether, one that doesn't go far in this book but will presumably do so as the series runs on.
Sam is growing too. That his marriage is falling apart isn't particularly important but the reasons behind it start to seem that way. Who is Leanne's boss, Neugent, and what is he getting up to behind the scenes? Why should we care about their wedding rings? Who is Lord Iron and what is the Elemental Court? I can't dig too deep here because that would venture firmly into spoiler territory but there's a huge amount of growth here for Sam.
Max progresses far too, though we don't see as much of him. He figures out some of that big picture but hasn't yet brought it to the attention of everyone who needs to know. I'm sure that'll come soon into book three, after the momentous events that wrap this one up, and resonate considerably. After all, in the Nether, men make all the decisions, even if they would do much better if they talked to their wives first.
And I liked Will here. He's a good man, however caught up in bad ways he is, through both his upbringing and the circumstances he finds himself thrown into. Perhaps the best writing Newman does is to create such strong conflict between Cathy and Will, while keeping them compatible enough that their relationship might actually go somewhere in the end, if, if and if. He struggles here, doing bad things for good reasons and good things for bad reasons, and he starts to question too. He wants to consummate his marriage, as is not only his right in the Nether but his responsibility, and he's frustrated by Cathy's refusal. He goes to some dark places, but wonders about them. "What was she turning him into?" he asks himself and we wonder how much he can grow.
Behind all of this hovers the Agency. I can't even remember if they were mentioned in the first book but they're all over this one, hiding behind a whole bunch of things. They seem to be the glue in Society, providing all the Great Families with servants and any other services that might also be needed. They're a monopoly and they're very much taken for granted, but Cathy haggles with them and Max wonders if they have another role, perhaps as some sort of police or intelligence force. We wonder a lot about them too, but any real explanations will come not here but later in the series.
I mentioned in my review of the first book that it was very much a beginning. This is very much a continuation and wouldn't work well at all as a standalone. If you're interested, you should start at book one and, quite likely, keep on going. This one ends with some real cliffhangers and I really want to leap straight into the third book, 'A Little Knowledge', but I'm going to behave and wait for next month. See you then. ~~ Hal C F Astell
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