Between Two Thorns, by Emma Newman

duhduhduh_dana's review

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adventurous mysterious slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes


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vlwelser's review against another edition

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adventurous mysterious medium-paced


katjes's review

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adventurous funny mysterious tense medium-paced


geekcliche's review against another edition

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Refreshingly different - and not because of all the tea drinking.

It's great to have fantasy world that isn't faux-medieval or steampunk, giving The Split Worlds an entirely different feel to most fantasy fiction.

Weaved within this blend of Fae and Regency manners there's some deeper themes there, which you'll be thinking about long after putting the book down. It also leads to a main female character who doesn't just put on armour or a leather catsuit and start hitting things - always a good thing.

While some of the period trappings aren't really to my taste (you'll probably never see Pride and Prejudice on my to-read list), this did hold my attention and I could quite easily see it being turned into a Sunday evening drama, sneaking a little fantasy into the usual period fare on BBC or ITV.

Also, for fans of Emma's podcast there's plenty of tea, some jeopardy and a butler wrapped up in the mix too.

Right, on to book two...

leontiy's review against another edition

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Between Two Thorns, the first of The Split Worlds books, should be precisely the kind of book I immediately award five stars to. It has fae and magic and period society… And yet it also has very little soul.

The story told in Between Two Thorns is somewhat linear and dull and despite the promising setting and synopsis, it is not a book I was able to warm to, try as I might. We have a handful of characters with their own POVs, though none of them are especially likeable. That’s part of the problem.

Catherine is a well-born daughter of one of the fae-touched families (think high society somewhere between Victorian court and Regency, with a few things from other eras mixed in) and she wants none of it. Instead, she bargained her way to university before running away and abandoning her life completely. There’s a problem: her family wants her back and Cathy is so very interesting that even her family’s patron has begun to take an interest in her. Cathy is in big trouble.

But not as much trouble as Max, an Arbiter, a soulless investigator whose purpose is to keep tabs on the fae-touched families—the “puppets”—and make sure things are kept in line. But people always break the rules and when he winds up stuck on a complicated case with little chance of backup, he’s about to discover that rules are there to be broken. After all… How do you keep order when you’re the only one trying?

Then there’s Sam, who happens to get sloshed and take a tinkle right next to the scene of the biggest conspiracy for centuries. Being mortal, Sam doesn’t understand who or what the kidnappers were, but he saw everything nevertheless and that’s precisely why those memories have to go. Saved by a loophole and the coincidental protection of something he doesn’t understand, he winds up with his memories locked away, making him the key witness to the crime.

William, freshly returned from his grand tour and ready to impress his father, is keen to marry. Until his father announces his political match and William wants the world to swallow him whole. A good manoeuvre it might be, but William’s rather got his eye on someone else—someone less odd and awkward and certainly less rude.

With magic and intrigue and the mystery of a missing person to solve, Between Two Thorns should have been wonderful. But it wasn’t. Badly paced, dull and offering little in the way of plot or real story, this book just did not do it for me. Frankly—and I always feel bad for saying this—it was boring. Nothing seemed to happen. It was predictable and yet at once unfathomable in the worst of ways.

It wasn’t bad… It just wasn’t very good. It was that dreaded word: meh.

In an attempt to modernise Cathy away from the fae-touched, I think Newman succeeds only on removing any sense of real character by trying far too hard to make her exceedingly ordinary. Ordinary characters are boring.

So, too, are characters at the opposite end of the scale; characters like William. And he, with his perfect perfectness, was one of the more likeable characters. It just felt completely soulless.

Furthermore, the dialogue was very strained, for me. Again, in an attempt to difference the usual and polite dialogue of the fae-touched, the mundane conversions between characters and the lingo Cathy insists on using feels too trendy and far too much like US English for a book set in Manchester, London and Bath. Hell, in daily life the people I know sound more like the fae-touched than anything else, so the dialogue definitely jarred. Naturally, this is a very subjective observation. (I’m also sick of characters being into Star Wars.)

In general, the book began too slowly, sagged in the middle and sprinted towards the end. There was no balance.

But! I appreciate what Newman is trying to do. Hell, I could love this setting if everything surrounding it pulled its weight a little more. I wanted to love this book. But there is always one book that appears on my anticipated list that fails to deliver—let’s hope that Between Two Thorns is the only one.

A messy, confused and awkward book that just didn’t do anything for me, but with masses and masses of untapped potential just beneath the surface. I’m hoping that in the next book, something clicks into place a little more.

Disappointed and honestly, a little meh. Poor book, but still, meh.

sarsev's review against another edition

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Oh, goodness. I am SO torn about this book - which is maybe fitting? On one hand, it's the most original fae fantasy novel I've probably ever seen, with incredibly fully-realized worldbuilding and a great take on a kind of relentlessly amoral supernatural atmosphere. On the other hand, the things that it does pick up from the kind of hand-wavy fantasy "canon" are all the ones that I, personally, hate.

So, it's a dilemma!

I love the three-part split worldbuilding, and the dude who accidentally put his own soul in a stone gargoyle (though mostly the gargoyle), and that dude who is more worried about his own marital problems than the fact that his burgeoning alcoholism mistakenly put him on a fae hit-list, and the fact that our heroine keeps impressing a completely amoral fae creature by just being pure Chaos Vibes at every second.

And at the EXACT SAME TIME: I hate the Fantasy Sexism supposedly justified by the "oh, but it's historically accurate!" bullshit excuse (faerie history is fake! make it up, for fuck's sake!), the fact that our heroine is the ONLY female character with any dimension (every. single. other. woman. is either "beautiful but evil" or "beautiful but not evil" and that is all they get), the ENTIRE sub-plot that for some goddamn reason revolves around our heroine's virginity, the weird narrative-wide insistence that our heroine's "plain" features somehow make her virtuous (rather than just, like, being a value-neutral and entirely subjective observation?), and that despite the clear framing of the Split Worlds gender politics as a bad thing our male protagonists and POV characters still outnumber our one heroine by at least three-to-one.

I'm so frustrated. I don't know if I loved or hated this! Both? It might be both.

But I bought the next two books at a thrift shop a while back, so I'm probably going to read them. Maybe this is all just debut-novel stumbles? That is entirely possible. Wish me luck with the others!

vae's review

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Loved the book, less keen on the audiobook. I shall go back to print for this series!

elizadunaway's review against another edition

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Read this for Emma Newman's writing, but kept reading for the story. I didn't know I could appreciate fairies and sorcerers.

bookcoffeecake's review against another edition

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A delightfully rendered world full of factions, mysteries and a handful of characters we get to know a bit as the first book takes us into the world and the story. Albeit some constructs are a bit flawed, like having a character that literary has no soul, which makes relating to him a daunting experience.

However, this book is charming and promises more in the next instalment.

bellatora's review against another edition

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This book started out slow - it dumps you into a semi-complicated scenario and tosses you between several characters. But it is absolutely, positively worth it to keep going. This is one of the best new fantasy series I have read recently.

The story is set in three interconnected worlds – our world in the 21st century (Mundanus), the fae world (Exilium), and the place in-between (the Nether). The Nether citizens are not fey themselves but are instead "fae-touched." I believe that means that they are humans whose ancestors made some deal with the fae to serve them in exchange for magic and eternal youth in the Nether. The fae in Exilium are trapped in Exilium. It is a beautiful prison and they hate it. While they control the families of the Nether, they are prevented by pacts and such from interfering with Mundanus.

Although it's the 21st century, the people in the Nether remain in a society that is more closely related to Regency England. It is not explained exactly why this is. Maybe they just always stay about 100-200 years behind the times, because their society evolves less slowly than ours (and without the technology and social pressures that force changes)? Maybe during the Mundanus Regency period, everyone in the Nether was still acting like it was the Rennaissance.

Nether society is supremely constricting: women are considered property, family honour is everything, and there are balls and fancy dress. Every family has a Fae patron, who must be listened to, or else dire consequences occur.

There’s also Arbiters, humans who have agreed to have their souls placed in jars so that they are emotionless and incorruptible. Until apparently most of the Chapters in England get corrupted. Why don’t they call in other countries’ units? Unclear.

And there’s Sorcerers who have epic magic to rival the Fae lords (who appear to be the ones who put the Fae lords in Exilium and then created the Arbiters to make sure they couldn’t leak their power into Mundanus. This is not spelled out per se, but it seems like what happened).

That's the basic setting. The plot involves Cathy, a Nether lady who managed to escape to Mundanus, but is dragged back basically kicking and screaming once Lord Poppy (her family’s patron) finds her. her family forces her to get engaged to Will, a member of another powerful family. Cathy and Will have a classic Pride and Prejudice love story and I can't wait to see how it develops. Cathy hates Will, seeing him as a symbol of her captivity. Will is a dutiful son and will do what his family asks, but is frustrated with Cathy's bitterness and plainness. But they are both strong, intelligent, honorable people with a shared love of Mundanus (Will is recently returned from a Grand Tour of the Mundanus world). It's clear that when Cathy and Will finally open themselves up to each other, they will have a love strong enough to take on the rigid Nether society.

Another major player is an Arbiter named Max whose soul gets trapped in a gargoyle. It’s a cute twisted buddy cop thing: Max is the emotionless, stoic one and the gargoyle is all his emotions (and sarcasm!). Max is investigating the corruption of the Manchester chapter of Arbiters, and then the slaughter of his whole order in Bath.

There’s also a Sorcerer who has no social skills whatsoever - he has to be coached by his secretary how to have normal human interactions. And then there's Sam, a mundane who gets caught up in things when he is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is witness to the kidnapping of a Nether noble. He’s kind-hearted but doofy, and his wife is some kind of underling for Lord Iron – someone none of the other magical people have ever heard of.

As I said, it's a lot to follow in the beginning. I was not really engaged until Cathy was forced into the Nether and met Will. Then machinations and plots and connections began coming together and everything got kicked up a hundred notches.