Between Two Thorns: Boring, but there’s hope

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsBetween Two Thorns by Emma NewmanBetween Two Thorns by Emma Newman

Between Two Thorns is the first book in Emma Newman’s SPLIT WORLDS series set in Bath, England where some humans live in a secret world called Aquae Sulis (aka “the Nether”) that’s parallel to Mundanis, the “Mundane” world we know. The people who live in the Nether keep themselves hidden from us and shun modern dress, manners and technology. Their society is just like early 19th century English society except that they are influenced by their fae House Lords and are also under the authority of the Arbiters who police their use of magic.

The story follows several characters including Max, an Arbiter who is trying to solve a murder that happened in Mundanis; Sam, a witness to the murder who has been charmed so he won’t remember it; Catherine, a young woman who has escaped into Mundanis and doesn’t want to go back to the Nether; and Will, a young man of the Nether who is back from his world tour and ready to be married off.

To come quickly to the point, I had to force myself to finish Between Two Thorns. There are several reasons that I never connected with this book. From the very first page it seems a little too reminiscent of several other books set in England — Harry Potter, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Neverwhere — but it never comes out comparing favorably to these better works. There is nothing particularly original or exciting in the ideas, language, or imagery. The prose works to get the points across, but without interesting turns of phrase, clever metaphors, or bits of humor.

The world-building has potential, but I never got a real feel for the separate worlds (there are actually three) which are supposed to be reflections of each other. It felt more like a split of time periods rather than worlds since the Nether world is essentially 19th century Bath (think Regency Romance) with a bit of magic thrown in. Why has this world shunned the progression and technology of the Mundane world? Why is electricity “vulgar”? What is the relationship between the fae, the Great Houses, the Arbiters, the sorcerers, and the Master of Ceremonies? I never felt like I was really in this world and I didn’t fully understand it.

Most of the characters in Between Two Thorns are hard to like. Max, the Arbiter, has been separated from his soul and is emotionless, making him a rather dull fellow. He has a gargoyle sidekick which contains his soul. This was the most interesting idea in the story, and it had plenty of potential for excitement or at least humor, but Newman missed that opportunity. Cathy, who most readers would probably consider the main character, is hard to sympathize with. She makes references to Geek culture, so I know we’re supposed to like her, and she has a compelling situation — she wants to stay in Mundanis and be a modern woman, but her family wants her back in the Nether where they can marry her off. We’re supposed to be outraged by this, but it’s hard to care since Cathy is always sullen and unpleasant and, I thought, just as shallow as her vain little sister who is perfectly happy to accept her role in Nether society.

However, my main problem with Between Two Thorns was simply that I was bored with the story. It took me a long time to get through this book because I kept finding other things to do, such as playing games on my iPad or seeking out conversations with real people. I just didn’t care about Newman’s characters or her story. I had to force myself to finish it. If the plot had been exciting, I probably could have forgiven all the other issues. (I can see, though, how some readers may feel completely differently about this book than I did, especially if they enjoy Regency-style novels and love the idea of that old-fashioned society living in parallel to our modern one.)

Brilliance Audio sent me a copy of Between Two Thorns. It’s read by the author herself. Emma Newman has a beautiful voice. She doesn’t perform the story by using different voices to distinguish the characters, but she’s a good reader.

Between Two Thorns doesn’t come to a satisfactory close — it’s clearly the first part of the story. At the very end, it finally started to get more interesting… right before it stops. I also received a copy of the sequel, Any Other Name, and already had it loaded onto my phone before I realized I didn’t like Between Two Thorns, so I think I’ll give book two a try. I have some hope that the characters will improve and that things will come together for the SPLIT WORLDS. We’ll see.

Update: Since writing this review, I have finished the second book. It’s definitely an improvement over the first book, nearly in every way. Still, I’m not sure I care enough to read book three. If the publisher sends it to me, I probably will.

Release date: February 26, 2013 | Series: Split Worlds (Book 1). 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? File Under: Urban Fantasy [ Gargoyle Sidekick | Finder’s Keepers | A Rose By Any Other Name | Manners ]

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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2 comments

  1. I’m sensing a “rose” theme. I wonder what the name of the third one will be.

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  1. Sunday Status Update: December 15, 2013 | Fantasy Literature: Fantasy and Science Fiction Book and Audiobook Reviews - […] for reading, but I did start Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman. I’m enjoying it more than Kat did.  I’m also still reading Bloodstone by Gillian…

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