Author: Emma Newman
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
Publication Date: February 26, 2013 (Angry Robot – North America)
Source: NetGalley Review Copy
Summary: Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.
The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.
There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.
But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?
☆: 3.5/5 stars – a wildly creative new series!
Review: I really, really loved the very complex concept in this book – the idea of mirror cities, urban fantasy police procedurals, and an alternate world with steampunk in it all rolled into one. However, I do feel like it needed one more good, thorough edit, because the coherency of things didn’t really come together until roughly around the first half of the book. Nevertheless, this is a very ambitious story and I enjoyed it a lot. I’m definitely in for the next book in the “Split Worlds” series! If you’re looking for a bold new urban fantasy series, “Between Two Thorns” is definitely something you should check out.
My biggest issue: because there are so many delicate parts to make up the whole of this book, it really needed one more editorial pass. Why? Because coherency of the book (as in, “I see where this is going”) doesn’t really start coming together until the end of the first half of the book, which is more than a little late, in my opinion. We get all of these teasing pieces to start solving right off the bat, with their accompanying POVs (one of the great things about this book is the alternating POVs with multiple characters, but it’s also its curse in the first half). We don’t really get the backstory of how Bath/Aquae Sulis/The Nether/Mundanus/Exilium are all connected until that point in the book, when really it kind of needed to be explained sooner. I wasn’t sure if Aquae Sulis was in the Nether or in Exilium (I did get my answer a lot later), but a lot of things like the whole Split Worlds thing and how they work really needed to be answered sooner.
That being said, this is a really great book. It’s am urban fantasy police procedural, an alternate world/parallel universe story, a steampunk story, a mystery story, and a contemporary story all in one. It does a lot of things at once, and after things start connecting together like dots, there are a lot of “oh wow” moments I had in terms of the worldbuilding and the character building (and towards the end of the book, the plot/arc construction). I love the idea of Eight Great Families with a flower-related Faerie connected as their patron, and the idea that one girl of said families wanted out of her lush, lavish (and more than somewhat backward compared to contemporary times) life. Newman does a great job with all of the world construction, and though it’s complex, it doesn’t get overbearing, lofty, or preachy in that way that fantasy books can get.
The sensory language was fantastic – especially when we were in the Nether or in Exilium. That’s where Newman really shines the most – showing us entirely new worlds that are only connected by a thin string, and that are absolutely gorgeous to behold. Even though Exilium is described multiple times as “a beautiful prison”, it was one of my favorite places within the sequence of the Split Worlds. Flowers and faeries and danger, oh my! Seriously one of my favorite renderings of the realm of Faerie so far. The ball that kicks off this first book’s finale was no less breathtaking in its fashions and the tension/action that happened within it, and generally within the sensory department, things came together really well.
The characters. I LOVED Max (and his Gargoyle). LOVED him. There were a lot of bits to this book that felt very much like pulp fiction – the hard-boiled detective and his sidekick, the hot dame asking for help, and so forth. I also love that we pretty much open and close the book with his POV, leaving a bit of a cliffhanger when it comes to one of the bigger problems of the book (who destroyed the Arbiters – magical policemen/detectives – of his chapter, and why?). I seriously can’t wait to find out the answer in book two. Cathy was also great, but I feel like Max stole the show in so many more ways than one. And can I have a Lord Poppy? Please? Even if he’s a scary, manipulating fae? Please?
Final verdict? Extremely ambitious, but needed a bit more editing to smooth out the rough patches, I really enjoyed this one, guys, and I can’t wait for book two. “Between Two Thorns” is out today in North America, so be sure to check it out when you get the chance!