RogerBW's Blog

Between Two Thorns, Emma Newman 12 January 2024

2013 fantasy, first of a series. There are magical worlds beyond our own… and most of the people who live there are horrible.

So fantasies of travel to magical realms are fairly standard by now, and were even in 2013; it takes a certain amount to get me interested. In this case, having read all of Newman's Planetfall series (and come to love all but the first), I looked at what she'd written earlier, and it's this series.

Well, it is a series: there's barely a pause in the action at the end of this book. But it's also rather more thoughtful than most other-worlds books, because there are two major groups of outworlders: the Fae, who are capricious and scary and cruel, and the humans who live as their clients in return for various benefits. Those humans, from whom most of the characters we meet come, are in something like a Victorian level of societal development; paterfamilias knows best and can dispose of you as he sees fit, especially if you're a daughter.

So while Cathy, who ran away to "Mundanus" and is now being dragged back, may sometimes come over as a bit 1950s… well, that seems like a fair place for a Victorian woman who's been living in the modern world for a few years to have got to. Oh, and she's going to be married off as part of the political interplay of the great families. Meanwhile Max is an Arbiter, the closest thing this setting has to magical policemen, who's having to work a bit more on his own than he'd expected; and Sam was just looking for a place to take a leak after a good night at the pub, and found himself mind-whammied.

But these people have lives beyond what's immediately relevant to the story. Sam is married, and his wife is a bit more of a high-flyer than he is – but is she actually just being a bit horrid and putting everything into her career, or is she having an affair, or (as the reader can theorise but Sam can't) is the baleful influence of the other worlds coming in here too? Is the wizard who's supposed to be in charge of mirror-Bath actually as mad as he looks?

There's a fair bit of setup and even some infodumping here, but there's also enough worldbuilding that I felt I could get my teeth into it. On the showing so far, this is a series about these worlds and the people they produce, rather than having standard multiple worlds as a setup for standard bildungsroman adventure.

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Series: The Split Worlds | Next in series: Any Other Name

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