The sky was the colour of a day-old bruise

Between Two Thorns

Between Two Thorns
Book 1 of the Split Worlds
by Emma Newman

I went to the launch of this book a few months back (which for some reason I blogged about beforehand but not afterward – very strange) and the only reason I have taken so long to get round to reading it is that it is linked to a series of online short stories that I wanted to finish reading before I started this novel. Then I got impatient with myself and just read this anyway! I will go back to those short stories now.

Disclaimer: Emma Newman is a local author to me and we have met a couple of times, as well as having a few conversations over the internet. I think she is very lovely and this may or may not have coloured my opinion of her book. Which I really liked. I think it’s probably very good whether or not you ever so slightly know the author.

Newman has come up with something special in the Split Worlds. She has created a fantasy world with a multitude of characters and things going on that feed into not only 50+ short stories and three novels (at least??) but also interactive games. But you could absolutely read this novel on its own, or any one of the short stories on their own, and enjoy it for itself, without the extra knowledge of all the other stuff.

What’s great is that although Newman has clearly put a lot of thought into world-building, there’s no noticeable chunks of exposition in this novel. You get dropped straight into a funny but sinister incident involving a drunk man desperate for a wee on his way home from the pub and all the details you need to understand what is going on and how that links to the other characters are added gradually and skilfully.

“‘Tea, sir?’ Axon picked up the teapot. Ekstrand peered at it suspiciously.
‘It is Assam, isn’t it, Axon?’
‘Indeed, sir.’
‘All right,’ he muttered and started to pace. ‘It’s all happening at the same time. I never did trust Sundays and this only adds weight to my theory.'”

There are quite a few characters but arguably the main one is Cathy, one of the “fae-touched” who is trying to break free from her family and live in the normal world known as Mundanus by – shock, horror – going to university. However, those who inhabit the magical mirror world she is hiding from, the Nether, will not leave her in peace. In the meantime, Max, a sort of policeman of the Split Worlds who is separated from his own soul, has stumbled on a breach of the Split Worlds Treaty so huge that there’s no knowing how high up in society the trouble goes or who he can trust.

I like the idea of the magical world and the normal world co-existing, and Newman paints both equally well. Characters in both worlds drink a lot of tea. But the worlds themselves are very different, or at least their people and societies are. The Nether seems to be stuck in a facsimile of 18th-century Britain, all very patriarchal and anti-technology and formal, with rigid rules governing everything and everyone, especially women. Mundanus is the world as it is now, in the 21st century, which makes for a huge contrast in some ways. Really, it’s a wonder Cathy is the only one looking to escape the Nether! But the Nether also sounds quite wonderful, with its silver sky and all the possibility of magic.

“‘Bloody weather,’ she muttered and then silently took it back. The sky was the colour of a day-old bruise and the wind was bitter but she still loved it just for being there. She never wanted to see a silver sky again.”

While you could read this as a standalone book, I was left wanting more, eager to buy part two and read it soon despite my enormous TBR. Thankfully my procrastination on getting round to reading this one means that book two, Any Other Name, has already been published (and indeed I bought it last weekend) and book three, All is Fair is coming soon, in October.

Published 2013 by Angry Robot.

Source: I bought this at the book’s launch at Forbidden Planet in Bristol.