Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman. ★★★★
Cathy comes from the Nether, the space between the Fae’s Exilium and the human’s Mundanus. While she had escaped the strict and hidebound society of the Nether, she’s now being dragged back in to face an arranged marriage. Meanwhile, Max, an Arbitrator who prevents Fae from entangling with Mundanus, is investigating a series of kidnappings and murders.
I really love how the use of the split worlds is able to merge different settings and genres. The world of the Nether is like something out of the 1800s, Regency or perhaps Victorian. Arranged marriages, balls, high society, constrained roles for women… yet right across the divide is our own, modern world, in which Cathy was able to escape for a time. The result is urban fantasy crossed with a sort of historical fantasy with a dash of fantasy of manners thrown in.
I enjoyed Cathy’s sections the most. She’s determined to find a way to gain her independence in spite of the world she was born into and her abusive family. Cathy also has the virtue of having a somewhat different story line for an urban fantasy novel. The mystery investigations of Max’s plot line were far more familiar than Cathy’s social drama. Max, as an Arbitrator, also has had his soul severed from his body, to prevent him from becoming emotionally involved and to make him incapable of corruption. While the idea is interesting, I think it made Max’s narration suffer by being much less personal.
The story also contains two more POV characters beyond the two I mentioned in the summary. Sam is a ordinary man who has an encounter with the Fae at the very beginning of the story. Will is prominent bachelor of Nether society and Cathy’s intended. I found these two characters much more ambiguous than Cathy or Max. I had sympathies for Sam’s sudden encounters with the magical but was frustrated by him beyond that. Will is often unaware as to the extent of his privilege, and while he may gain some sympathy for Cathy as the story goes on, he never comes close to understanding her. Yet I find Will’s moral ambiguity interesting enough that he’s my second favorite, after Cathy.
Although there are many different POV characters and plot threads, Between Two Thorns maintains a fast pace that pushed me to end up reading it beyond the designated pages for the read along. I was disappointed that so many plot threads were left hanging for book two, but I will certainly be continuing with the series. If you have an interest in the fae or fantasy of manners, I suggest you take a look at the Split Worlds series.
I received a free ARC copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.