Emma Newman’s novel, ‘Planetfall’ was one of my Best Reads for 2020. It was a strikingly original and Science Fiction book with a strong and unusual main character. When I went looking for more of her work, as well as adding the sequels to ‘Planetfall’ to my TBR pile, I discovered ‘Between Two Thorns‘. It’s the first book in her five-book fantasy series, ‘The Split Worlds’ which is set in mirror cities that connect our world with the world of the Fae.
I live in Bath so the first line of the publisher’s summary for ‘Between Two Thorns’ was enough to grab my attention:
Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.
‘Between Two Thorns’ didn’t disappoint me. The Split Worlds concept that the plot rests on is an original and deeply thought-through twist on the typical ‘portals in the veil between the mortal and Fae worlds’ idea. It has an entire civilisation based around it.
The plot of the first book provides a compelling introduction to the Split Worlds and to the conflicts built into it and to the people who manage the mirror cities that stand as vassal cities for the Fae and act as a buffer between the Fae and the mundane world that we all live in.
Telllng the story from multiple points of view kept the story on a human scale and gave me someone to cheer for. Actually, it only really gave me one person to cheer for. The reality of the Split Worlds is not a cosy one and many of the characters, even the mundanes, are hard to like.
The Fae are monstrous, menacing and fundamentally alien. The humans in the mirror cities live in fear of the Fae, still follow the social mores of Regency England and are locked in an endless struggle for social status. The Wizards, who appear to have created this mess and who hold it together, are so distracted that they’re barely human. The Arbiters who police the boundary between the worlds are grim beings who have had their humanity ripped from them.
The only likeable person in the story is Cat who, rather than pursuing status in the Nether, fled to the mundane world so she could go to university.
When Cat fails to respond to a summons home, her choices are taken away from her and she is brought back to Aqua Sulis. One of the things I enjoyed about the book was Cat’s reactions to her still-living-in-Regency-England society. She could be in a Regency Romance. She’s from a prominent family and is being betrothed to a handsome and personable son of another prominent family. The things she can’t swallow is that she has no more rights than any woman in Regency England had. She’s her father’s property and will become her husband’s property and attending fancy balls at Prior Park or Assembly Rooms and wearing stunning gowns won’t change that. She’d happily give up immortality as a chattel for a mortal life as an independent woman.
The Split Worlds aren’t static. There are some big changes underway, not all of which are fully explored in the first book. There’s no cliff-hanger ending but there are enough loose ends to hook my imagination and make me want to come back for more.
Emma Newman does a great job of narrating ‘Between Two Thorns’. She’s also put the short stories/word sketches that she used to add depth to the Split Worlds on SoundCloud. Click on the link below to sample them.