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The Split Worlds #1

Between Two Thorns

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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?

384 pages, Paperback

First published February 25, 2013

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About the author

Emma Newman

75 books1,678 followers
Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels.

'Between Two Thorns', the first book in Emma's Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the BFS Best Novel and Best Newcomer awards.

Emma's latest book, Planetfall, is a standalone science fiction novel published by Roc.

Emma is a professional audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated podcast 'Tea and Jeopardy' which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs and gets up to all kinds of writing mischief at www.enewman.co.uk.

Emma has recorded audio books for publishers and short stories for fiction podcasts. To find out more about her voice work go to www.enewman.co.uk/voice. You can also find Emma on Twitter: @emapocalyptic

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 393 reviews
Profile Image for carol..
1,576 reviews8,239 followers
November 14, 2020
Do not read this review. Unless you are carol., and unless you are not fond of regency romance and portal worlds. No, this is not a riff on Grover's Monster at the End of This Book (whoops! Spoiler!)

carol. You will hate this. Oh sure, it starts promisingly. Sam, looking for someplace unauthorized to pee, accidentally witnesses two very strange-looking men removing a body. His scene ends with a whopper of a spell put on him by Evil Tinkerbell. We switch to Max, an Arbiter lawman, who is tracking down some shady Fae dealings and ends up being ambushed by another Arbiter. The absolute best part about him is that his soul is given a new home in a gargoyle. Then we switch to Cathy, a Fae woman living in Mundania (!), hiding from her family so she can go to school, live a mundane life, and basically not be the compliant, living doll the Fae seem to expect of their women (except when we actually meet the women, they seem pretty much as scheming and power-focused as the men). There's a moment of interest when she's in an emporium and encounters the Lord of Fae, who gives her three wishes.

I know, right? Gargoyles and a woman struggling for independence, right? Three wishes? It sounded good enough to get you through the first third or so. But the woman's character is so 1950s, it's a serious drag. You rolled your eyes at “A zillion reasons,” she sighed. “If I tell you, will you promise not to tell anyone else?” He could see she was trembling. “I promise.” “My father…is violent when people aren’t as accomplished as he wants them to be. I’ve never been very accomplished.” Trembling. Bah!

She commits the cardinal carol. sin of manufacturing a fight and telling someone she loves it was all a sham so that she can force him away before she hurts him (!?). Bah! I say again! She ends up going from doormat to aggressively verbally attacking the one man in Fae who is nice to her, to suddenly growing a spine (sortof) and hoping she can manipulate a favor into an escape. Bah! I hate romance tropes. I hate the phrase "words tumbled from her mouth." What are they, acrobats? Kate Daniels never has tumbling words!

Then there's the wild inconsistencies. I know, I know. You've heard a ton of positive buzz about Newman, especially the Planetfall series. I really hope this isn't representative, because it's just silly. How silly? Well, at one point, Cathy carefully memorizes all her account numbers, locations of storage and so forth because she knows she won't be able to take anything back to Fae from Mundania, and she thinks it could be years before she is back. But then, "She just hoped she could remember how to use them; the Arbiter’s hurried instruction had been given almost a week before." Alright, so she can do a random bank number but not a plan to activate a device.

Or this piece of writing: “Mr Gallica-Rosa,” she said, with a small curtsy that felt ridiculous in jeans and trainers. “Good day to you. Has your car broken down? Do you require assistance?” The words felt so wrong, like someone else was speaking them. Why would those words feel wrong? Because no one in Mundania says, "good day?" Or "did your car break down?" So strange that that feels wrong. Good day! I say. Good day, sir!

Other building doesn't make sense. We have Max thinking "Max had no idea how it worked. It wasn’t his place to understand sorcery" and and then literally, one second later, "The Sorcerers, unlike the Fae, were able to embellish an anchor property’s reflection in the Nether, and from the cloister’s design Max theorised that..." What? I thought this wasn't his place? Can you make up your mind, please?

About 70% into the story, Newman does this HUGE explano-babble by Cathy to explain the world of the Fae to a Mundane. It honestly felt like it should have been earlier or not at all. If we didn't figure it out by 70%, it doesn't belong there.

Then there's a tiny little 'whilst' snuck into to perfectly normal modern speech patterns: "I was thinking about this whilst you were asleep,” the gargoyle said. “We need to find out if that kind of corruption is in other places.” Oi! But not a 'thee' or 'thoust' or 'Faust' to be found.

The world-building is horrible. It's like that Elfland book you hated coupled with Terry Brooks' Landover series. Portals, blah-blah. There's the Nether, Exilium where the true Fae live, and Mundania. And the inconsistencies stack up. At one point Cathy thinks "She was thankful she’d been given a refresher lesson on surviving Exilium by her mother, just in case she was summoned back to their patron. It was the longest interaction she’d had with her since returning home. Okay, first of all, nice ret-con for a section that isn't going to matter, because, secondly, there is no special trick to surviving in Fae except "don't touch anything, eat anything or drink anything." Except a handy silver platter, which is just sitting around a picnic table in Fae, even though they are allergic to it. Which is weird, because I do the same thing, even though I'm allergic to peanuts. They're always sitting on my dinner table in case I want to accidentally eat them.

One review described it as a cross between Regency Romance and UF. Wish I had seen that review, because Regency is Not My Cup of Tea, and I wouldn't have started this. I'd recommend it for people that like Karen M.'s Fever series but thought that there was too much graphic sex. And, btw, this really isn't urban fantasy, because it's about Fae relationships and politics and has very little impact or action in 'Mundania.' Ugh.

There's also some weird shit about blonde-blue eyed people in Fae that you couldn't be bothered to read closely enough to work out.

Just don't.


P.S. Honestly, might be far more enjoyable for people who enjoy that whole 'regency romance'/court politics set-up. The writing isn't terrible. (But 'trembling.' Bah!)
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Mogsy.
2,075 reviews2,636 followers
June 24, 2016
3.5 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2016/06/24/...

I had the wonderful pleasure of reading this book with all the good folks of the SF/F Read Along group, and I do recall being so glad when I saw Between Two Thorns on the docket since this a novel that has been on my to-read shelf for years now. With book four set to come out later this summer, it’s time to get caught up with the series.

The book follows four characters, but they’re introduced at different times and it’s not immediately clear how they’re all related. First the story opens with an introduction to Sam, just your average guy stumbling home drunk from night with the boys at the bar. In a classic case of wrong-place-wrong-time, he slips into an alleyway hoping to relieve himself, but instead winds up interrupting a paranormal crime in progress. Next up is Cathy, a young woman living a literal double life in our world (called Mundanus) while trying to escape her family and the strict old-fashioned society of her home world, the Nether. However, her time in hiding comes to an end when she is discovered by a high Fae named Lord Poppy, forcing Cathy to return home to face the music.

Unhappy to be back in the Nether, Cathy is further horrified when she learns that her parents had negotiated a marriage contract for her in her absence. The man she is betrothed to turns out to be a young lord from another noble house named Will, recently returned from his own expedition into Mundanus. Meanwhile, a supernatural police force called the Arbiters of the Split Worlds Treaty is busy investigating the high profile disappearance of the Master of Ceremonies—who also happens to be Cathy’s uncle. With the help of a powerful sorcerer, an Arbiter agent named Max follows the leads to uncover an even greater conspiracy.

Between Cathy, Max, Sam, and Will, there are a lot of story threads here and it does take a while for everything to come together. Reading this one by weeks and sections almost exacerbated the issue for me in some ways, because it made the disjointedness even more pronounced. For instance, Sam disappears after the introduction and is absent for a large section until his POV gets picked up again around the three-quarters mark, and there are a lot of other connections that don’t happen until closer to the end of the book. That said, I enjoyed the air of mystery surrounding all of the novel’s events, and while the plot could have been tighter and better paced, I thought the story was entertaining and engaging.

The characters were clearly the highlights. At the center of the book is Cathy, the glue who holds it all together. Her reasons for leaving home were immediately apparent, making it easy to relate and sympathize with her. Through her eyes, I could understand why she became fascinated with Mundanus, and even fell in love with a Mundane. While Cathy’s behavior grated on me at times, it’s also true that she’s in a bad spot. I felt for her, watching all her freedom disappear the moment she was dragged back to Nether and being forced to marry someone against her will while her heart still belonged to another.

Max, Sam, and Will were also interesting characters, though perhaps under-utilized in different ways. Will for one really grew on me, despite being a late arrival to the story. It took me a while to figure him out, but then again, I do love characters that keep me guessing. Sam, who was neglected for much of the story, ended up playing a rather big role, and even added some humor to the plot. I just wished we could have seen more of his home life between all the chapters set in the Nether, and a lot about his background is still a big question mark. Still, I think I was most disappointed with Max, a character whose soul has been severed from his body as per the Arbiter policies to ensure incorruptible agents. I was so excited when his section was first introduced with all the mystery and world-building behind the Arbiters, but I feel Max’s part in the story ultimately became overshadowed by the other characters.

Still, I have a feeling that the sequel will provide a lot more answers, and the characters who played a smaller role in this one will get their chance to shine. As a series opener, Between Two Thorns does a really good job setting up the scene for us. It does take a while for the story to gain momentum and have all the plot threads come together, but a little patience will pay off big time. I’m definitely intrigued by this world and its characters, and I’m glad I finally got to read this book.
Profile Image for Freya.
573 reviews118 followers
November 9, 2013
A lot of fae-related books often have the potential to be fluffy and lovey-dovey so I was quite happy to read a book where the characters were not falling over themselves to stare dreamily at the pretty faerie.

The Split Worlds consists of the Mundane (where you and me live), Exlilium, and between the two, acting as a barrier of sorts is the Nether. The Great Families of the Nether are each associated with a Fae lord of Lady and this is reflected in their surnames, such as Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver and her family having an association with Lord Poppy. There are also Sorcerers and Arbiters who keep the peace, protecting the balance of things, seeing that the Fae and fae-touched are kept in their places and that no mundanes are hurt. The Nether seems to occupy a Regency era time which fits perfectly with it being for the most part set in Aquae Sulis (the Nether reflection of Bath).

Catherine is a great character as she rebels against her life with her family and having to live in the Nether. She doesn't have any special powers (unless stubbornness can be called a magic power!) and she doesn't go wibbley at the knees when an attractive looking chap or Fae lord comes along - for the entire book! Which quite frankly makes the rest of the series seem quite promising. But she is also not just rebelling for the sake of the story having something to go from, she has pretty believable reasons which you can see from her point of view.

I was torn between a 4 or a 5 star - I have this problem with most fae stories, however I think based on how much I enjoyed the various different aspects of this book I have gone with 5. There are so many more interesting things to do with the structure of the society and so on, but I think I'd be giving too much away... I guess you'll just have to read it!
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,564 reviews2,938 followers
February 7, 2017
This book is one I picked up becuase I already really love Emma Newman herself. I have listened to her Tea and Jeopardy podcast for a few months, and I really enjoyed it. I've met her, and she's genuinely lovely, and I wanted to finally try out one of her books. As Planetfall and After Atlas (the latest two) were not yet out on audio (although I hope they are coming???) I went for this one, believing it to be a gamble as I thought it was Urban Fantasy (and I don't often enjoy that sub-genre). However, although I can see why it has that label, this feels more like a blend of Urban and Fantasy of Manners with Victorian England, Fae, Magic, Sorcerers, Split Worlds and more. I saw one review that described this as Downton Abbey with magic... It's so very true!!

This story is a very easy one to get into and enjoy. Emma Newman's narration is super fun, and of course gets the true tone of the book across beautifully as she knows exactly what she intended it to be. We follow various different characters, but once I knew who was who, I was super happy with how each one felt different, developed and established. And there weren't many characters who fell into the 'troupe' issues I have with some Urban Fantasy stories, they all felt fresh :)

We follow Cathy most, she is a young lady born into a strong family, but she hates her life. She is dominated by her father, a nasty specimen indeed, and she has always felt that all she wanted was to be 'normal' so her tale begins with her having run away. As the story started I felt that she was a bit of a slightly wishy-washy character, but as it went on I felt her starting to grow and develop and I think this will continue with later books.

We also follow Will, Max and Sam. Will is a very powerful young man even though he's not the heir to his family. Will has recently come back from a world tour through Mundanus (our world) and the Nether (his world) with his best friend. When he arrives back he knows he's expected to marry but is surpised by the choice made by his family.

Max is an arbitor - kind of like an investigator of magical Fae people. He has discovered a huge crime scenes and a plot to kidnap a super important member of the Fae early in the story and this weaves in with the rest of the characters and plot as the book goes on.

Sam is a mundane (human) who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As it stands he's having marital problems and feels like he wants to get back to 'how it once was'. He gets mixed up in the magic of the Fae and becomes entangled in their plots and deceptions...

Overall these are probably the 4 major characters, but there are many minor ones I found most intriguing. Lord Poppy is a hugely powerful patron of Cathy's family, and he is also full of awe-some magic. His involvement always precedes trouble...

As a story I think it got stronger as it went and by the end I had fallen in love with the way Emma Newman writes these characters and the story she was telling. I think it's truly a fun British-inspired story with elements of our modern world and Victorian England ideals in one. The play on the troupes is a great addition too, and I fully intend to keep on with the series very soon! 4*s overall. Definitely recommended, even if (like me) you thought Urban Fantasy wasn't 'your thing'.

P.s If I have spelled any of the names etc. wrong it's due to not owning the physical book and only hearing the names. If you know the correct ones do let me know :)
Profile Image for rameau.
553 reviews187 followers
March 9, 2013
This review can also be found on Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell-blog.

There’s a difference between theory and practice. In science, theories are meaningless without the empirical evidence to support them. In fiction—no matter how brilliant the idea—the execution of a story is everything. Here, it fails.

In theory, reading about two worlds co-existing in modern Britain and reading about the adventures of the fae in the mundane worlds sounds intriguing. The possibilities of seeing different cultures clash and compete are endless. In practice, every author has to choose a line to walk on. I don’t think Emma Newman has any idea which line she’s straddling let alone how to tread on it.

The problem lies with the characters. It’s not that they’re particularly horrid—I actually liked that they were described either as ugly or dull—and unlikeable. It’s not even the fact that Cathy is the most frustrating, spineless, insipid heroine I’ve stumbled on recently. It’s that their characterisations aren’t properly supported by their actions. Both the fae and the mundane talk and think alike. Even Max, the most interesting character of the bunch, doesn’t quite act like someone whose soul has been disconnected is apparently supposed to act.

It’s like Newman created these rules for herself and then forgot to follow them. That is, if there were any rules to begin with. Never did I get the sense that the author had fully internalised and adopted this alternative world she had created, let alone that she’d fully applied it to the characters she was writing about.

And with that, whatever there may have been unique about the story—about the idea of a few young, rebellious fae touched challenging Nether’s customs and traditions—unravels into an uninteresting mess.

I’m not a fan of fairies, but I never open a book wanting to hate it. Between Two Thorns had its chance to win me over and it failed. I started skimming and speed-reading around 20% mark and only stopped a few times to read scenes with Will in them.

P.S. Every time I wrote the word mundane, I wanted to substitute it with the word muggle.

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Allison.
554 reviews575 followers
October 25, 2017
This book was not at all what I was expecting, and I was surprised that I ended up liking it. First of all, I thought it was going to be a historical fantasy set in Regency-era Bath. Instead, what I got was a modern urban-ish fantasy with a portal world called the Nether that's stuck in the past as far as social expectations go. So it's a Regency-like setting, but one that's aware of the modern world, and sticks its nose up at it for being mundane.

The clash of modern and 19th C values intrigued me, especially as it doesn't idealize the good old days as most Austen-esque stories do. Instead, it highlights the absolute lack of rights of women in that time. I'm curious to see if future installments bring about some modernization in the society of the Nether - I'm sure some kind of upheaval is set to take place and am looking forward to it.

I was also intrigued by the glimpses of other parts of society in the different worlds, and various types of magic, and then there's the greater mystery embarked upon by the the arbiter and gargoyle that has barely been touched. Again I'm eager to discover what changes will take place in the future to these aspects of society.

One of the main characters, Cathy, was a bit over the top in her inability to conform to her society's expectations or even to be civil. She doesn't even know how to pretend just a little bit, which I thought was unwise - and also irritating. But at the same time, I have a feeling it's going to be instrumental in some of this upheaval I'm looking forward to.
Profile Image for mith.
763 reviews264 followers
August 10, 2016
i actually don't know what to write for this review. this happens on the occasion of my rating a book all the stars or those i felt 'meh' about.
this is the latter.
nothing really stood out about between two thorns. it wasn't what i expected and this was one of those rare moments where i knew what i was getting into (side note: when i pick up a book, i immediately forget what it was supposed to be about so i have to check the blurb like 20 times to remember)
the blurb itself didn't have much about it--just some guy, max, who needs this girl's help because some guy was tampered with and can't remember important events. i thought that max and said girl would, you know, have many interactions and of course, share intimate moments--okay, i thought they'd end up together.
i was sooooooo wrong.
this isn't a romance book in any sense of the word. there's like zero romance in the entire novel--which both surprised and irritated me. surprised because WOW that's rare and irritated because i like the tiny bits of romance in my novels.
but anyway, you may be wondering, what is this book about, then?
well. it's about fae political stuff.
okay so the world cathy, one of our main characters, lives in is a world between ours, which is called mundanus, and a beautiful prison called exilium (or something like that). that little in between is called the nether, which has reflections of mundanus towns. her city is called aquae sulis, bath's reflection.
she's not there because she wants to me. she was forced back because after almost three years of having run from her family, her patron, lord poppy, found her and ruined the charm that kept her hidden. with that gone, cathy has to say goodbye to her freedom, the internet, PANTS, running water, flushing, and books. oh the horror!
what does she go back to? oh let's see.... an ATROCIOUS family, one of THE WORST that i've come across; an arranged marriage; corsets because apparently the nether just HAS to be in ancient times (okay it's not ancient but you know what i mean).
max is an arbiter, which is a protect or innocents from puppets. translation: protectors of humans from dirty, dirty fae. after a city has been compromised and he's the only arbiter from his city, along with recent disappearances of 4 humans in as many weeks, he knows he has to find out what's going on. he's the second main character. he also doesn't have a soul because arbiter's are fucking strange--they can actually DETACH it from them with some necklace and put it around a fucking statue. they talk to the statues like live diaries and they basically feel the way max is supposed to feel if he had his soul. this is important because his soul is in a stone gargoyle at the moment.
sam is the dude whose memories were tampered with. he's a regular ol' guy, married in a marriage you don't wanna be in, and has a vulgar mouth--one i don't understand, honestly. he's POV #3.
our final POV is william, aka will, aka cathy's husband-to-be. honestly? he felt irrelevant. i wasn't even sure why he had his own POV and by the time i did, i still didn't care.
in the beginning, everything is a bit jumbled. i'll give it to newman, though. she wove the story very well together, twining every main character's arcs with one another's. each one had their own distinct voice, too, so there was no confusion on whose POV the next chapter might be from.
for the most part, i guess i liked the characters? like i said way before, i felt very meh about this story--not much stood out. my favourite character was probably max's gargoyle and then max, mostly because the gargoyle had the personality while max was just robotic. i liked cathy enough but mostly i felt bad for her and angry on her behalf. and i already shared my thoughts on will-irrelevant.
i also found the blurb to be... not misleading because that clearly happens, but... i can't think of a way to explain it. the issue is that i expect that to happen a LOT sooner, but when it did, i was about 60% done with the book. the plot doesn't start then--it begins a lot sooner--but i didn't expect it to take so long.
the pacing of the book isn't technically slow but neither is it fast-paced or heart-stopping. it just is. it's not one of those books where things are constantly happening.
so! having said ALL that, my final rating is 3.5. i definitely could have used a little more something in the story, but i guess it did an okay job for setting the groundwork for the rest of the series. this first book solves one of the problems introduced and i have no doubt the others will delve deeper into the bigger picture. i will be continuing so i hope it gets a little more action-y.
if you're into political intrigue, i think you'll like this. if not, then i might skip it. the writing isn't dense or anything, but it's pretty decent so you might be flying through if you're into it!
But why is the typography so similar to The Assassin's Curse??
Profile Image for Casey.
391 reviews97 followers
August 28, 2017
Magical words, Urban Fantasy, dislocated souls, 3 wishes, and kidnapping? HELL YES.

Between Two Thorns is a strange and pretty awesome story. On one hand we have the modern mundane world ie. London in our times and on the other we have Fae lands and a little inbetween. Cathy one of our main characters is dating a cute boy, watching sci fi movies, running away from her family, and studying at uni until it all comes crashing down when her family traces her after a run in with a Fae lord.

Having run away from the Nether, which is a neither here nor there space between the Mundane world and Fae world, she’s hauled back to an abusive family and a society living 300 years behind the times, she has no rights, strapped into a corset and being used to further her families place in society by marrying whomever they choose instead of being valued or recognised for her personal worth or intelligence. She’s told to shut up and be polite or face the consequences.

TW: There is parental and family abuse, this isn’t a YA our protagonist is 20 and although she’s had a privileged life in regards to a roof over her head and money she grew up with a physically abusive father and emotionally abusive Mother.

I really loved the mirrored worlds and thought they were explained fantastically and simply! A simple magic explanation that makes sense is all I’m asking for when it comes to mirrored worlds, things can get fucky with to many elements. The nether interested me the most, a place in freeze frame, no wind, no weather, no sun, no stars, just gray sky and high society being semi controlled by a Fae overlord for each high standing family.

Asides from Cathy’s story we see from an Arbitors POV. An Arbitor’s job is to police the Nether for the mundane world.

Max witnesses a fellow officer acting dodgy and investigates why he’s whole chapter (detective/police squad) is suddenly non responsive. Arbitors are the law enforces between Fae and Mundanes, keeping fae from catching mundanes and making them slaves and being sure there aren’t any charms used for harm in the human world. To do this one has to be immune to magic to achieve this Max’s soul is detached and kept in a chain/necklace that’s usually anchored to his neck. Unfortunately something happened when he was giving his report via statue and now he has a sass gargoyle, his soul fusing with the statue and become an awesome sass stone that bugs him and helps him solve the corruption that’s happening around.

I loved the mix of Old society in the nether and modern mundane world, I adored Cathy even though I know a lot of people saw her as naive and a bit dull I liked that she was true to her upbringing. She wasn’t epic-ally strong or particular baddass but she had a strong mind and a kind heart. Also her family fucking sucks and needs to be set on fire repeatedly. I admired her will power and strength when it came to the abuse she has been put through her whole life.

We also have Will, the handsome guy Cathy is arranged to marry. I was meh on Will but we’re supposed to be. He’s Cathy’s chosen match and while he has an okay heart he’s swimming in the sexism that is expected from a guy 300 years behind and Cathy isn’t ready to put up with that shit.

There is also a talking sass gargoyle I mentioned before and if anyone doesn’t love how ridiculously awesome that is I don’t even know xD

“I assume the gargoyle does not require refreshments?”

“I don’t think so. Should it?”

“I imagine not, sir, being of a stone constitution, but I find it best to never assume anything when it comes to matters of unnatural animation.”

Overall I really enjoyed the world building and mix of weird, the dislocated souls and everything having great reasoning behind them.

THAT ending though
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews293 followers
July 30, 2015
Upon completing this book I commented to my husband that this is the kind of book which, because of it's non-ending, there's a part of me that wants to go out and get the next book to continue/finish the story... but it's also one of those books which I'm sure I'd pretty much forget about if I leave it sit for a few months.

Well, it's been less than a week and I already almost forgot I'd even read it.

This book, like so many, has so much potential and interesting ideas, but falls flat in the execution. I mean, it could be a cool mash-up of UF and Regency, both of which are genres I read (though I've been digging the Regency more than the UF these days, with a few exceptions). But it never manages to blend very well, leaving it more sort of rough and haphazard than an actual coherent story. (Well, it's not not coherent... it just doesn't flow very well.)

Anyway -

The blurb makes this sound like it's primarily Max's story, but Catherine seems, to me, to actually be the main focus of the story. Catherine is... well, Catherine should be the kind of character that I really sympathize with. Part of one of the "Fae-touched" families who live in the Nether (a realm between Mundanus, our world, and Exilium, where the Fae have been, well, exhiled), she tries to escape to our world to get away from a culture stuck in the past, where woman have no rights and no voice, and where her family is particularly abusive and horrible.

A woman stuck in a backwards society who wants to be more than a socialite and use her mind instead? These are the kind of characters I usually love.

But she made it ever so hard to care about her. She's supposed to be strong and forthright and whatnot, but she mostly comes across as whiney and petulant and useless. (I also found it hard that someone raised in the Nether would so quickly adapt to our culture after what seemed only a year or so, but that was more a background thing.)

Anyway -

My favorite character in the book was Max's gargoyle - a gargoyle brought to life for what was meant to be a short-term thing, but which got stuck with Max's soul inside him. (Max is an Arbiter and they have their souls removed to make them immune to Fae magic.)

The gargoyle was great.

Unfortunately, after Max and Gargy get to the Sorcerer, they all but disappear from the story except for little bits here and there, and a thing at the end, and that's more Max than Gargy, and Max is annoying and kinda a dick.

Pretty much all the men in this story are dicks except Sam. And, well, Will grows on you - and is probably the second most interesting and charming character - though he's one of those people who is all "one step back for every step forward" kinda guys. He's also a bit too perfect, and downright smug about it.

As to the plot - it seems to focus much more on Society and manners and whatnot than it does the actual mystery of the missing person or the stuff that Max encounters in the beginning, which leads us to the non-ending, because it sets up a lot of stuff that's clearly meant to be explored in the next book... I'm just not sure I really care enough about any of these people to bother.

Overall: Interesting ideas, but not great execution. Flat writing, annoying characters, and no one to really care about.
Profile Image for MLE  .
Author 3 books88 followers
April 16, 2013
I received this book as an ARC through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this story. The mix of magic, Victorian manners, and the modern world was interesting and well developed. It took me quite awhile to get into things, and I had a bit of trouble understanding how the different stories were going to fit together, but once I found myself drawn in it was hard to put down.

I really enjoyed Cathy. I liked her stubborn, rebellious, and snarly temper. I can imagine how horrible it would be for a smart, and independent person knowing that your only future was to be a decoration sold to whoever would profit your abusive family the most; having no purpose beyond making others look good, or at least not making them look bad. Being constantly under the thumb of one man or another; unable to make any decisions of your own, and having to keep quiet and never expressing what you really think or feel. Her family talks about her being selfish, which I can see in some ways, but no more selfish than they are. I can’t see where either her mother or especially her father has done anything worthy of the loyalty they seem to think she owes them.

Will is understandable, and I can admire him in some ways. I like that underneath the façade of the dutiful son he is an he is a pretty independent thinker, and that he is willing to make things work with Cathy. He might not have started out with great intentions, but he doesn't want to them to make each other miserable. I know these things because as the reader I was privy to his inner thoughts. I can see why he and Cathy can’t understand each other, and why Cathy is so resistant to the match. It's not about hating Will, but about hating the situation, and wanting to be her own person.

Max was interesting, and I hope there will be more of his story in the next book. I was interested in learning more about the Arbitrators and their role. What I did learn in this book seemed different, and I really liked the gargoyle. The secondary cast of characters were colorful, and interesting, and added a lot to the story.

I liked that the Fae were dark, cold, and crazy, and the society build around them reflected that self interest, and superficiality. It made for a nice backdrop to the action and intrigue. I liked the ending, some questions were answered, at least in part, and I was still left wanting more. I will definitely be reading more.

Profile Image for Mieneke.
782 reviews84 followers
March 28, 2019
Sometimes it can be scary starting a book, especially if you have high expectations for it. And starting Between Two Thorns was certainly scary. Emma Newman's debut novel was probably my most anticipated novel of the first half of the year and since I've been reading and enjoying her Split Worlds short stories – even hosting one myself – a lot for the past seven months, I had a pretty good idea what to expect. Still, you never know whether what works brilliantly in short form will be as enjoyable in novel form. As such I was a little scared to start the book: what if I didn't like it? Thankfully, all my worries were for naught as I enjoyed every minute spent with the novel and its protagonists, Cathy, Max, and Sam.

Part urban fantasy, part Regency novel of manners, Between Two Thorns is a unique beast. It tells the dual stories of Cathy – Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver to give her her full name – a Fae-touched citizen of the Nether and that of the Arbiter Max. Arbiters are those that stand between the Fae and the Fae-touched on one side and humanity on the other. They protect us from being the play things and slaves of the Fae. Cathy is a young woman who is desperate to escape the stifling Society of the Nether and to live like a regular human in Mundanus. She's resourceful, brave, and strong, but also distrustful of the denizens of the Nether, sometimes unnecessarily so, which could be a bit annoying at some points. Despite this, Cathy is extremely likeable and it's interesting to follow her struggle for independence. On the other hand, Max's story is more of a crime story, as he needs to solve the mystery of who has abducted Aquae Sulis' Master of Ceremonies and a further bigger mystery regarding the destruction of his kingdom's Arbiter Chapterhouse.

Newman manages to cram a ton of background information, history and world building into Between Two Thorns without ever resorting to info dumps. It was only once I started explaining what the book was about to my husband that I realised the amount and depth of the information encompassed in the book. For a debut novelist, for any novelist really, this is quite a feat. There are many layers to the story; there is the whodunit regarding the abduction; there is Cathy's re-entry into Aquae Sulis' Society and her search for an escape; there is the intricate and endless politicking between the Nether families, the Fae, and the Arbiters; there is Sam, a Mundane who accidentally witnesses something he shouldn't have and gets dragged into the Nether because of it. There is so much going on and yet, with one exception, Newman never loses control of any of it. The one plot line I did feel was left out a bit, was the Chapterhouse investigation, though that is clearly something that I guess will feature heavily in the second novel. Still, for something that got mentioned quite often, the actual page time given to it was rather short and consequently the ending felt a little too open.

The characters featured in Between Two Thorns are almost all of them well-rounded, especially those with larger parts. My favourites outside of the three main characters were Cathy's intended betrothed Will and Max's gargoyle sidekick, who despite remaining nameless has quite the personality. I liked the juxtaposition between Will and Cathy; both are dissatisfied at their lot, but where Cathy rebels, Will tries to set things to his hand from within the established mores. The gargoyle is hilarious and makes for a really funny sidekick, but at the same time creates a lot of pathos when he articulates the feelings that Max can't feel anymore. Hopefully we'll see more of both of them in the rest of the series. Despite having a Mundane ex-boyfriend, who she isn't completely over yet, and a betrothed, Cathy definitely had chemistry with Sam. Sam, in his turn is still married, though the marriage is far from happy and is seemingly all but officially over at the beginning of the book. It'll be interesting to see where Newman takes this in the next books.

Between Two Thorns really was an unalloyed pleasure to read and it's hard to write a review for it that isn't just gushing. From her short fiction I knew I liked her writing style, but with her novel Newman has landed me hook, line, and sinker, and I can't wait for the next book to drop in July. Newman has created a unique blend of urban, historical, and crime fantasy clothed in a Regency veneer. Between Two Thorns is delicious, engrossing, and enchanting and, so far, my debut of the year.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.
Profile Image for Mona.
513 reviews297 followers
February 5, 2021

It pains me to give Emma Newman a less than stellar review. But alas, neither this book nor its companion audio worked for me.

I’ve been following Newman for years, reading the free short stories she’d send to her email list, etc. She’s come a long way as a writer. The first two books of her Planetfall series were her best work yet.

Also I love good fantasy. But for me, this wasn’t that. Carol, whose taste I often agree with, gave it 1 star. I’d post a link to her review, but the review explicitly says that no one should read it..

I found this book to be a mashup of discordant elements that just didn’t blend and meld together. It’s a detective story/crime novel/steampunk fantasy/fairy story/time travel novel, etc. etc. There were stone gargoyles that came to life (if I remember correctly, these were used to much better effect in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimeus series. Although I admit the gargoyle in this book was one of the more engaging characters). There were evil fae, crazy sorcerers, people called “Arbiters” who enforced the otherworldly laws. The arbiters have their souls disconnected (which turns them into schizoidal psychopaths). There were weird sorcerous artifacts and scrying devices. There was “Mundanus” (the contemporary world), Exilium (the fae world), and the Nether, a world bridging Exilium and Mundanus, peopled by families of “fae touched” who are ruled by their fae overlords. The families in the Nether are about 300 years behind the times in Mundanus. No computers, hoop skirts, corsets, outmoded ideas about women’s behavior, etc.

It’s all just too much, along with the constant jarring transitions from one world/timeline to another.

Overall, the whole creation felt like a fingernail scratching a blackboard. Excruciatingly annoying but what did it accomplish?

Also, many of characters were not so likeable. Many of Newman’s heroines come off as strident harridans. Cathy is a strong and capable woman who is trying to escape from her extremely abusive Nether family. Like Anna Kubrin in “Before Mars” in spite of her obvious strong points she becomes more off-putting as the book progresses. But she’s only one in a panoply of dislikeables, from the jerky sorcerer to the evil fae overlord, Lord Poppy. There’s Cathy’s dreadful family..violently abusive father; nasty, unloving mother; and mean, jealous, pretty sister. Sam, a secondary character who witnesses a crime in Mundanus, and then loses his memory of it, is more relatable. His wife seems like a selfish shrew. Often, oddly, Newman’s men are more likeable than her women.

The excellent world building here just can’t compensate for the multitudes of awful characters.

I can’t give the book a lower rating though, because Newman knows her craft. She has put together a well crafted story (albeit an annoying and jarring one).

Also, like many authors, Newman’s not the best reader for her own material. Andrew Kingston, who read “After Atlas”, the second Planetfall book, did a much better job of reading Newman’s work than Newman herself. In this audio, in particular, Newman’s voice started to grate on my nerves.

I don’t think I’ll be reading the subsequent books in this particular series. That said, I do look forward to more books by Emma Newman, as she is a highly original writer with a quirky and unique viewpoint.
Profile Image for Wealhtheow.
2,448 reviews549 followers
November 15, 2016
Time does not pass in the Nether; there is no weather; nothing changes. Society exists almost just as though it was still the early 1800s, but with one major difference: every family there is a vassal to some fearsome fey lord. The humans' social whirl of balls and teas is really just one battle in the unending, merciless fight for supremacy among the fairy court. To attain the notice and good will of a fairy lord is every human child's grandest dream...every one but Cathy Rhoeas-Papaver, that is, who escaped the Nether for the mundane world of sci-fi novels, fast food, and where women have rights. Unfortunately for her, her verve attracts the attention of Lord Poppy, and he sends her stumbling back to her disgraced family in the Nether. She has to figure out who's been killing Arbiters, who kidnapped her uncle, and how to keep Lord Poppy happy...all while also sidestepping her arranged marriage.

I absolutely love the concept of this novel. High society manners combined with magic, fairies, and a feminist awakening sounds designed to appeal to me. There was enough of all that keep me interested, but there were too many pov characters and not enough development of each of them. There was no reason Sam, the mundane computer programmer who's endlessly bitter about his wife, needed to have much or any page time. Will, just becoming a man in the Nether's high society, has inklings of missing the Mundane world and of trouble at home, but not much is made of either. Max, the soulless Arbiter sworn to protect Mundanes from fairy magic, has a good character concept but stops investigating or getting character development after the first few chapters. Which brings me to my second minor problem: the pacing isn't great. The plot moves forward at a good pace, but there are too many subplots that remain unresolved, and I felt that the main plot of Lady Rose trying to enter Bath's Nether society was too simple and too easily resolved. If these court intrigues last hundreds of years, I'd expect them to be rather more subtle and complicated.
Profile Image for Icy Sedgwick.
Author 40 books102 followers
September 22, 2014
I've long been a fan of Emma Newman's work, and it is to my constant chagrin that I didn't read this sooner. Set in her Split Worlds universe, in which normal people live in Mundanus, and the Fae have been locked in a beautiful prison called Exilium. Between these two worlds is the Nether, a reflection of the mundane world, and stuck about three hundred years in the past. Women are merely chattels to be sold to the highest bidder, with marriages used as political mergers between the Great Families, as the so-called puppets scrap to become the favourites of their Fae patrons. One such puppet is Cathy, daughter of the Papaver family and new favourite of Lord Poppy, but time spent living in Mundanus has convinced her how backward Society life in the Nether is. However, it's not just backward, it's also subject to corruption, and Cathy has to team up with an Arbiter, whose dislocated soul now animates a London gargoyle, in order to expose what's really going on. There's far more to it than that but I really don't want to spoil it for you! It's a wonderful read, and I genuinely didn't predict where the story would go. It's the first in a series so the ending is obviously open to lead into book two, which I'll be buying as soon as I've finished typing this review. Thoroughly enjoyable, wildly inventive, and fast paced!
Profile Image for Paul.
563 reviews150 followers
January 14, 2016
A really enjoyable read.Closer to 4.5 stars
A nice twist on the magical parallel world idea with the young girl trying to escape the boring ,stale socially restricted place to the much more interesting real world. Nicely constructed Georgian magical society sitting alongside the modern world with a decent dose of family fueds and arranged engagements surrounding a few mysteries. Great characters.
A big cliff hangar to finish and glad to see the two sequels are long out
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,954 reviews1,293 followers
May 2, 2015
There’s a paradoxical tension that lies at the heart of a lot of fantasy. The presence of magic seemingly makes some things that are impossible for us easy, or even commonplace. People can heal (or even come back from the dead). People can shapeshift into animals, or use telepathy, or see long distances without the aid of a telescope. Yet this often occurs in a setting that is pre-industrial (at best), a world that knows not of flush toilets, cars, and cell phones. Sure, you might be able to heal your flesh wound if you know a wizard—but if you don’t, you will probably die of infection that we can now easily prevent.

Emma Newman examines this tension in Between Two Thorns. Cathy Rhoeas-Papaver is the scion of a Fae-touched family. She used to live in Aquae Sulis, a magical reflection of Bath. There, she and her family do not age. They exist merely as puppets and playthings of the Fae, to participate in a bizarre and twisted reflection of what high society once was in, say, the early nineteenth century. But in addition to not-ageing and going to balls, they learn charms and other little magicks. They think they are better off. But Cathy’s governess infected her with thoughts of “Mundanus,” our world, and so Cathy ran away to go to university. And now she is being dragged back home to get married off into a life of servitude and knowing one’s place.

There is so much to unpack here. But what affected me most is the emotional and physical abuse Cathy suffers at the hands of her family. She is punished merely for refusing to conform to her family’s and society’s expectations for how a woman should behave. Her father beats her. Her brother displays genuine tenderness towards her but nonetheless promises to put a “Doll’s Charm” on her and render her paralysed if she resists him in bringing her back home. Because she would rather live in Mundanus, age, fall in love with a mortal boy than live her life as an empty-headed wife.

Newman is very effective at portraying the way in which abusive people isolate their victim. Once back in Aquae Sulis, Cathy is always supervised and watched. She is essentially kept leashed, allowed out only on special occasions to interact with the fiancé she does not want. Combine this with the fact that nobody else in Cathy’s society really understands or believes that she could possibly not want to participate, and virtually all avenues of escape are cut off for her. It’s only through the extraordinary circumstances of Cathy’s collision with the other plot that she can grasp at any hope whatsoever.

The other plot concerns Max, an Arbiter, a human charged by one of the Sorcerers to police Fae influence on Mundanus. The Sorcerers are apparently the cabal who managed to exile the Fae to Exilium (they are not, however, the most creative bunch when it comes to names). As far as I can tell, the Fae can move between worlds, but they aren’t supposed to do that very often, or else it threatens the balance established by whatever contract the Sorcerers negotiated with them.

If it sounds like I’m fuzzy on the details, that’s because Newman offers very little in the way of exposition. From the beginning to the end, Between Two Thorns keeps its cards close to its chest. However, if you’re paying attention, the internal consistency of the world slowly comes into focus, and you pick up on the details here and there. I really appreciate this “slow burn” approach to worldbuilding.

So, gradually, we learn more about the roles and relationships among the Arbiters, Sorcerers, Fae-touched, and Fae. It’s all very complicated—and, one gets the sense, very precariously balanced. Someone (or multiple parties) appear to be upsetting that balance. Max tries to solve this mystery, enlisting Cathy in a somewhat ad hoc manner, along with a clueless computer programmer who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Oh, and Max’s soul is presently living inside a gargoyle. Can’t forget that detail.

Even as Cathy plays spy, then, in an attempt to find out who among the Fae-touched appears to be behind the machinations in Mundanus, she has to figure out a way to deal with her fiancé, William Reticulata-Iris. Here’s another place where I appreciate Newman’s deft touch. William doesn’t seem like a bad fellow—but he’s a product of his society, and those values are very much ingrained in him. Hence, although he is courteous to Cathy, he still regrets that his family has promised him to someone so plain-looking and ill-mannered. And Newman doesn’t commit the sin of making these two ill-matched people fall in love with each other. Cathy and Will’s relationship is every bit as nuanced, complicated, and volatile as one would expect given how circumstance has thrown them together.

Overall, Newman’s depiction of the Fae-touched society exemplifies the paradox I mentioned in my introduction. As Cathy reflects, the Fae-touched like to look down on ordinary mortals … but no one in Aquae Sulis has a flush-toilet or running water, let alone electricity. The Sorcerer’s reaction to the notion of using a computer to help him track Way-opening activity is humorous. Yet all this technology would certainly improve their lives. And, keep in mind, we’re talking about people who don’t age here. Can you imagine going centuries without running water?

I admit there are aspects of how Newman’s world works that aren’t entirely clear. If Fae-touched don’t age, how come overpopulation is not a problem? Does everyone eventually die in a duel, or become enslaved in Exilium? If not, I don’t understand how the society can continue to function and have comings out for its younger members if the older ones don’t eventually vacate pride of place for them. Similarly, I would have liked to learn a little more about the history of these worlds, how and why the Sorcerers imprisoned the Fae, that sort of thing.

Given the leisurely pacing of the majority of the book, the climax slips into a much higher gear than I anticipated. Cathy and William briefly team up to expose the bad guys, and then suddenly there’s a Sorcerer, and then there’s a denouement where the authorities can hand out punishments … and it’s over, in barely the blink of an eye. It just feels so very easy, compared to some of the tribulations that Cathy faces getting to that point (Lord Poppy is one passive-aggressive mofo, and don’t get me started about Tinkerfaeries).

These are minor quibbles, however, held up against what is otherwise a surprisingly engrossing story. From Cathy’s rebellion to Max’s sleuthing, Newman creates a layered narrative that comes together into a neat faerie tale. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t expecting much from this; faeries can be hit-and-miss for me. Newman makes the right call in not hewing too closely to “established” faerie lore, like the Winter/Summer or Seelie/Unseelie Courts (or if she is, she isn’t showing those cards yet either). She forges a new path, one with tantalizing hints at deeper mythology we’ll hopefully explore in the sequels. Until then, if you want a story with faeries that nonetheless embraces all the foibles of being human, take a look at this.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Nathan.
399 reviews126 followers
January 26, 2013
Fantasy Review Barn

Ok, so there is the real world, known as Mundanus to those who know of the other worlds. There is Exilium, home of the Fae, and a very dangerous place for mortals. But in between, there is the Nether, with is neither here nor there. In this land live the Great Families, mortal, but fae touched and magical. While in the Nether they do not age, and life seems to be a nothing but a string of social climbing and political posturing between the great families.

Our heroine Catherine, Cathy for short, has managed to hid from her family and patron in Mundanus, living a typical college student life. But as the story begins the Fae known as Lord Poppy finds her, strips off the protection that hid her, and gives her three wishes ( and anyone used to ‘fairy tales’ knows this is more curse than gift). Forced home Cathy is quickly woven into the petty (but perhaps deadly) politics that make up life in the Nether. Something sinister is happening in the Nether though, as the Master of Ceremonies is missing. A gate keeper of sorts, his disappearance is noticed in Mundanus as well. Enter Max, an Arbiter (which appears to be some kind of border patrol between the magical and non). Originally searching for corruption within his ranks, he gets dragged into the disappearance by a sorcerer. Lastly there is one witness to whatever happened, a mundane named Sam. Unfortunately, Sam was drunk when he saw.. something.. and may have a magical charm blocking the memory as well.

Confused? Don’t worry, the author does a decent job of easing a reader into the new world as the characters travel between the different realms. Most of the story follows Cathy, who is entertaining to read about. Considered ‘plain’ by Nether standards, she fell in love with the Mundane world, even going so far as having a boyfriend. Going back to being a ‘puppet’ of the Fae in the Nether grinds on her horribly. While she never stops fighting for her own personal freedom, for most the story she has little control over her own life; where she lives, where she goes, even a promised marriage are all out of her control. Max is an interesting character as well. As an Arbiter his soul is literal taken from his body. What this does is make him almost emotionless, unless he is near the chain that holds his soul. It was a strange but interesting plot device, and at times it worked well, though it was a bit clunky in the execution.

I enjoyed the unique take on fairy realms, by adding the Nether there was one more level between the Fae and humanity. Some neat ideas were present, such the Great Families needed to own the property on both sides for it to be binding. And when it came to the story itself, I found myself staying up late to finish after a fairly slow start.

So there are a lot of interesting ideas, and the plot was enjoyable enough for me to stay up late to finish. That was good. But I have to admit, there was too much about this world that I just didn’t believe in, which is a problem for a fantasy book. I can’t figure out what the Arbiter’s really are policing, nor where they get their authority. There are vague references to a treaty, but no explanation as to why the Fae should fear them at all. The Great Families have a thriving economy, but no indication of what it is based on. No one in the Nether seems to work (outside of servants), but they are not true Fae, so they are not just living on magic. There are hints that the Great Families trade in things other than money (wishes, dreams, etc), but they also had a heavy hand in the economy of Mundanus, with no real indication of how. It got frustrating. Other little things; why would a family distrustful of technology use a car because they are afraid of trains? How could a sorcery be in contract with agents in Mundanus like Max but be so unaware of what technology is useful for, even if he refuses to use it? Why did they seem to move with humanity right up to Victorian times, they decide to stop?

And while this was certainly the first in a series, and therefore allowed to have some loose threads, this book left some loose threads completely ignored. Why was Sam protected by Lord Iron, when no one seems to know who that is? Why was Max concerned about Titanium used to mend his broken bones? I have lots of questions, and I am not sure many of them are set to be answered.

It was a good book, and a real page turner. I will probably be reading the next in the series, because I enjoyed most of it, and love fairy tales of all kinds. But I sure wish I believed in the world the author built a bit more.

3 Stars

Profile Image for Mike Finn.
1,227 reviews36 followers
January 4, 2021

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.

Profile Image for Jessica Strider.
515 reviews61 followers
January 28, 2014
Pros: interesting characters, fully realized worlds

Cons: Catherine’s relationship with Josh didn’t feel real, book ends abruptly

Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver grew up in a powerful family of Aquae Sulis, the Nether version of England’s Bath. But she ran away to Mundanus, hoping to build a life for herself away from the machinations and abuses of her family. Now they’re bringing her back and forcing her to get married.

Meanwhile, the Master of Ceremonies has disappeared and a Bath Arbiter, charged with keeping the people of Mundanus safe from the fae and their Nether puppets, has uncovered corruption in the London Chapter.

There’s a lot going on in this book that isn’t said, due to Aquae Sulis rules of propriety and the mundanes that feature in parts of the story. In many ways it makes things fun as you get to figure out aspects of society, the sorcerers, etc. organically. Only a few things were a bit confusing and took time to figure out, like discovering that Patroon wasn’t a typo for Patron, but a separate office.

The different worlds were realized well. I liked the amount of detail put into the Nether - the unchanging light, lack of wind, etc. and the glimpses of Exilium were perfect.

The characters were fun, though since we were only told about Catherine’s relationship with Josh, rather than allowed to see them together as a couple, I kept forgetting she was in love with him. This becomes a problem because I found myself liking her intended groom in the Nether, who tries so hard to impress her. Seeing her previous relationship in action, and getting to know Josh more, would have grounded that relationship and made her plight - forced to leave him and marry someone else - starker.

The main mystery of the story wraps up, but the book itself ends very abruptly. I found myself turning the page, expecting more, only to find I was done. You’ll want the next volume ready to go if you start these, because this book ends with several people in tight spots.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,015 followers
October 30, 2013
Technically, I've both received this to review on Netgalley and received a copy as a competition prize from Angry Robot, so it's high time I got round to it. My review will, of course, be an honest one.

In fact, I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. I enjoyed reading it, but it didn't seem to pull together at the end -- instead of the first book of a trilogy, it felt like the first part of a book. It's not even exactly a cliffhanger ending, it's just... some things wrap up, but most things don't, leaving several plot threads dangling and a major mystery unsolved. I'm interested in reading the rest of the trilogy, but this way of ending the book didn't feel right.

Anyway, the most interesting thing about this book is the world-building, the Fae world and our world, and Exilium. There were times when that felt rather like other books (Daughter of Smoke and Bone came to mind pretty strongly during the Shopkeeper chapters, and Tad Williams' War of the Flowers comes to mind as a comparison too), but it was intriguing enough to keep my attention. The characters, less so -- Cathy is made a bit too average, I think, and Will a bit too perfect, but in that cocky self-assured way that never fails to irritate. I want to know what happens to them, but I'm not convinced I care.

There's nothing about this book (other than the ending issues I mentioned above) that makes me dislike it, but I think my feelings on it will alter (or not) depending on what the other two books of the trilogy are like. Unfortunately, I don't have Any Other Name, so that might be a while from now.
Profile Image for AH.
2,005 reviews373 followers
March 6, 2014
Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman is a lovely story of our world (the world of the Mundanes), the Nether World (a mirror image of our world), and the world of the Fae.

Catherine has tasted freedom and is hiding the world of the Mundane in Bath. She is found by her family patron the Lord Poppy who takes an interest in her and forces her to return to her family. Lord Poppy offers Catherine three wishes, all to be made before the ball.

It is understandable why Catherine would not want to go back home. Life in the Nether world is fairly restrictive. Marriages are arranged in order for families to get the best matches. Women wear restrictive clothing - skirts, corsets, etc. During the season, the girls are expected to be on their best behavior so that they could be seen as marriage material.

Catherine is betrothed to Will. Like Catherine, Will has seen the outside world and has returned because of family obligations. He is not too happy that Catherine has been chosen for him, however he obeys his family. Catherine remains uncooperative.

This was an enjoyable book full of magic and fantasy. I loved Catherine because she was full of life and did not want to settle. I can't wait to read the next book in the series.
Profile Image for Kirstie Ellen.
780 reviews104 followers
September 20, 2017
Initial Thoughts Upon Finishing
This book got better and better with every chapter that passed. It's such an interesting blend of the real world and fae - mostly because of the 'fae touched'. Their in-between state added a unique element to this fantasy storyline that made it super enjoyable. The characters were all mostly spiteful and horrible to Cathy but I loved it - it made the mystery plot line to the story even better with all these horrid people being 'polite' in a backwards way to try and shame someone else and therefore complicating the mystery. It was like Mean Girls teamed up with Sherlock Holmes or something. SO GOOD. GIVE ME THE REST OF THE SERIES ALREADY.

Between Two Thorns
This book was something a little different for me. I finished reading it and felt the need to tell people that not only was it fantasy, but urban fantasy. Is it urban fantasy? Who knows, the genre topic is a thing best not discussed with me less we digress into the chaotic catastrophe that was my latest video. Ahem.

This book has a grungy, fantastical feel to it and I really enjoyed that. It’s set in England — swinging between Manchester and London — and also in the In Between (I can’t remember if that’s its official name but let’s roll with it). The In Between is where the fae come into it because YES ladies and gentlemen, I give you a book about fae.

Does anyone else get over excited at the prospect of fae in books? I blame Julie Kagawa. In this world, the fae live in a very strange realm and those that are ‘fae touched’ — I presume somewhere in their bloodline there was some mingling and now they have super freaky abilities (they don’t but whatever) live in the In Between. So the In Between is a place to put people who the fae have accidentally contaminated with their magicalness and have gone: oh goodness Jeff, what should we do with these here halfbreeds? To which a friend must have replied: ah Barnaby, let’s quick make a place in between time where these pompously stupid people can get stuck in an era of Victorian-ity and live like weirdos.

Clearly that’s what happened.

So our main character Cathy is the fae-touch person in question who does not like the In Between. Considering it is, indeed, stuck in a timestream that moves much slower than the outside world they are still living to Victorian standards. So being a woman isn't all that great. So Cathy does what any young lady would do: she gets herself a scholarship to Manchester uni in the pursuit of excellence, and then flips them all the bird and runs away — using magical spells from a cool, if weak-minded, sorcerer.

Meanwhile, we have a paralleling storyline of a guy called Max. He’s what’s called an Arbiter WHICH, brace yourself, is a police-sort-of-presence whose soul has been dislocated — DISLOCATED, I SAY — to ensure that all official decisions and motivations for solving crimes are never interfered with by personal values or the soft side of one’s personality that might not enjoy, say, climbing to the top of a really tall cathedral and leaning right over the edge to spy on someone.

This is very cool concept. Newman, allow me to pat you on the back. Never, in my many years of reading, have I encountered this aspect of dislocated souls. Obviously, it makes for a very intriguing plot line as Max’s department, if you will, gets destroyed and then his soul (to whom he communicates with by allowing it to possess statues) gets stuck in a gargoyle. Said gargoyle is most excellent and a character I want to see more of. However, you could see how this is problematic for Max.

SO THERE’S A LOT HAPPENING. I recommend this on many levels if anything just for the fact that you’ll get to read about a sassy gargoyle.

A Clash of Times
I liked this aspect of Victorian vs. modern, a lot. It gave Cathy a chance to break free of societal norms and blossom into a young lady in the way only possible in a world that allows you to vent your frustration via xbox games.

I liked when we jumped back into the In Between and came up against these pig-headed characters who were painfully sexist and belittling to Cathy. As much as I didn’t connect nor really like her (more on that later), I did find myself empathising with her. Moreover, it created very complex issues with liking other characters (men, usually) who have grown up in this social setting. How can you like a character who is, for all intents and purposes, meant to be a nice guy if he is tightly strapped by sexist ideas and motivations which therefore lead you to wanting to slap him every second sentence?

It’s a very confusing book in that sense. Morally conflicting, if you will. But I liked it. And Max’s story is a nice relief from the stress of Cathy’s story which has so much going on. Although the divide between times is much less apparent in Max’s story (maybe because he’s a man) so you get to focus more on the action and the absurdity of having your soul stuck in a gargoyle.

TO THE JUICY PARTS. I really didn’t like Cathy. She was bland. She was infuriating and overall just didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor as a heroine. When the book starts off relatively slowly and then you’re given a character who’s certainly not Katniss, it’s hard to find the motivation to keep pushing through.

She did grow on me at times, however, and I have high hopes that as the series progresses I’ll find myself liking her more and more. To be fair, she is limited in options and actions by the situations she finds herself in, but nonetheless I didn’t connect with her.

Max is a difficult character. Given that he doesn’t technically have a soul for any part of this book, it’s very hard to guess at what he’s like. Especially because when we have the gargoyle nattering away you’re presented with a very contrasting image of what Max is like. Is he serious and work-driven? Or is he fun-loving and accidentally found himself in a job that has transformed him?

So I’d say Max is a character I will withhold judgement on. But I will say that never was there a more entertaining character than Max’s soul in the gargoyle. Given the fact that he is in a gargoyle it easily lent itself to funny moments when this great, stone figure is trying to sneak around.

Will was a character who I loved and hated. You want to like him but overall he comes across as a right dickhead. Which is where I think his character suffers from the ‘time period’ that he’s in. I hope that in future books he will blossom in the chivalrous, woman-respecting man we all know he could be. Let’s hope, anyway.

So yes, a very good and unique book. I highly recommend for all Young Adult readers out there and particularly those fond of fantasy (who isn’t fond of fantasy?). The characters were complicated because of their situation, if on the whole a little unlikeable, but I have faith that this series will only get better as the books progress!

Happy reading!
Profile Image for Alleyne Dickens.
Author 3 books23 followers
January 21, 2014
The Guardian said "JK Rowling meets Georgette Heyer" and that's pretty spot on!

This book introduces us to a world of Fae-touched humans who live in a world called the Nether, which lies between our normal world (Mundanus) and the Fae-world (Exilium). There's a mystery, there's magic, there's danger and a gargoyle! I found this book charming and engaging.

My only quibble comes, probably, from my romance background. I really like Will (who I think is the hero -- he has one of the 4 POVs). An upstanding young member of the Fae-touched Society, Will is kind, courageous and honorable. He finds himself engaged to the renegade Catherine (another POV character), who treats him abominably no matter that he does.

This is the first of three already published books. I don't know if that's the whole trilogy, but I'm eager to finds out. I especially want to find out what happens to Will and Cathy and who killed the Arbiters of the Bath Chapter.
Profile Image for Sunil.
947 reviews120 followers
July 18, 2014
Between Two Thorns begins with a man looking for a place to take a piss. In the coming days, he will regret all those beers he drank because, wouldn't you know it, he's in an urban fantasy novel and he stumbles into the secret, magical world of the Fae. Many urban fantasy novels would focus on this character and his story, but Emma Newman takes a different tack, showing the secret, magical world primarily through the eyes of its inhabitants.

In fact, Newman utilizes several POVs to offer differing perspectives: a human being introduced to a fantasy world, a Fae-touched mortal who's escaped to the mundane world, an Arbiter investigating some dastardly Fae-related deeds...and then Newman is bold enough to introduce a fourth POV a significant way into the book, which is disorienting until it's revealed how he's connected to the other characters. Newman balances straight-up exposition with a sense of mystery very well, so that as a reader you feel just lost enough to be intrigued but not confused enough to quit. She allows the characters to show the different facets of the world, and it's especially fun when their stories intersect and you see the same events or characters from different perspectives.

I empathized a great deal with Cathy, the aforementioned Fae-touched mortal who's escaped to the mundane world. Her world is patriarchal as fuck, and she won't have any of it. Families arrange marriages and make alliances and hold grudges and betray each other, and to top it all off, they don't even have any fucking sky: the Nether, where she lives, is like a shadow of the real world, Mundanus. She's rebelling against an oppressive family and an oppressive society, but just as Sam, the aforementioned human, is getting pulled into the fantasy world, she's getting pulled back.


I love stories with multiple POVs and intersecting stories, and Newman weaves them together fairly well, though it can feel imbalanced because there's no pattern to the POV switching (sometimes a character will keep POV for one chapter, and sometimes it will be for a couple). That kept me constantly on my toes, though, since I never knew where the story was going. And regarding where the story goes, a word of warning: although some plots are satisfactorily resolved in this book, it is absolutely the first book in a trilogy, leaving plenty of loose ends to be followed in the rest of the series. It does not really stand alone.

Between Two Thorns is an exciting introduction to the Split Worlds, in all its complexity, full of characters you'll love, characters you'll hate, and characters you won't be sure how you feel about. It's fresh, fun, fast-paced, and super British. I haven't read a book this quickly in a while.
Profile Image for C Hellisen.
Author 45 books263 followers
October 28, 2014
Oddly, I've had this book for ages and never read it because for some reason I thought it was epic fantasy and I just wasn't in the mood for grimdarkityness.

It's not. Between Two Thorns is one of my favourite kinds of fantasy - the line between two worlds, and the people who live there. In this case it's the human or Mundane world and Exilium, the prison world of the fae. The line is the Nether, where the human puppets of the Fae live in strict and stifled social classes in mirror cities tethered to real ones in the human world. Where women are little more than pretty toys who must make respectable matches. (You can already see why I love this, yes?)

Enter Cathy, or Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver, who has done her best to escape this world and run to the Mundane, where she lives as human and normal a life as she can, until her family track her down and drag her back home to to marry, and she becomes key to a Great House power-play, and a war between Sorcerers and Fae.

There's a lot to this book and much left unanswered, so I'm very keen on reading more by Emma Newman.
Profile Image for Alice .
522 reviews39 followers
January 11, 2019
TW/CW : mentions of slavery, death and blood, abusive parent

DO NOT READ THE SYNOPSIS OF THIS BOOK, it's so spoilery, omg, it actually talks about something that barely happen during the last 3rd of the book and which I think will mostly happen in the next books more than in this one!

Not sure yet if I'm giving this a 4 or a 4.5, it also depends on what happens in the next books and in which direction the story goes from here.

I really enjoyed the story and the characters, I wish there had been a little more descriptions of places, especially when they were in Exilum because we got NOTHING. And even in the Nether it could have been more described, I'm having a hard time actually picturing it.

Sometimes the story got a bit lost between Cathy's problem and her maybe engagement VS Max' investigation. But that's part of what I'm sure will get better as the books go on.

Overall, super enjoyable with great character and intriguing story.
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