Between Two Thorns, by Emma Newman

  • TITLE: Between Two Thorns (The Split Worlds #1)
  • AUTHOR: Emma Newman
  • PUBLISHER: Angry Robot Books
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 7th March 2013 (UK)
  • RATING: ★★

BetweenTwoThorns-144dpiBetween Two Thorns, the first of The Split Worlds books, should be precisely the kind of book I immediately award five stars to. It has fae and magic and period society… And yet it also has very little soul.

The story told in Between Two Thorns is somewhat linear and dull and despite the promising setting and synopsis, it is not a book I was able to warm to, try as I might. We have a handful of characters with their own POVs, though none of them are especially likeable. That’s part of the problem.

Catherine is a well-born daughter of one of the fae-touched families (think high society somewhere between Victorian court and Regency, with a few things from other eras mixed in) and she wants none of it. Instead, she bargained her way to university before running away and abandoning her life completely. There’s a problem: her family wants her back and Cathy is so very interesting that even her family’s patron has begun to take an interest in her. Cathy is in big trouble.

But not as much trouble as Max, an Arbiter, a soulless investigator whose purpose is to keep tabs on the fae-touched families—the “puppets”—and make sure things are kept in line. But people always break the rules and when he winds up stuck on a complicated case with little chance of backup, he’s about to discover that rules are there to be broken. After all… How do you keep order when you’re the only one trying?

Then there’s Sam, who happens to get sloshed and take a tinkle right next to the scene of the biggest conspiracy for centuries. Being mortal, Sam doesn’t understand who or what the kidnappers were, but he saw everything nevertheless and that’s precisely why those memories have to go. Saved by a loophole and the coincidental protection of something he doesn’t understand, he winds up with his memories locked away, making him the key witness to the crime.

William, freshly returned from his grand tour and ready to impress his father, is keen to marry. Until his father announces his political match and William wants the world to swallow him whole. A good manoeuvre it might be, but William’s rather got his eye on someone else—someone less odd and awkward and certainly less rude.

With magic and intrigue and the mystery of a missing person to solve, Between Two Thorns should have been wonderful. But it wasn’t. Badly paced, dull and offering little in the way of plot or real story, this book just did not do it for me. Frankly—and I always feel bad for saying this—it was boring. Nothing seemed to happen. It was predictable and yet at once unfathomable in the worst of ways.

It wasn’t bad… It just wasn’t very good. It was that dreaded word: meh.

In an attempt to modernise Cathy away from the fae-touched, I think Newman succeeds only on removing any sense of real character by trying far too hard to make her exceedingly ordinary. Ordinary characters are boring.

So, too, are characters at the opposite end of the scale; characters like William. And he, with his perfect perfectness, was one of the more likeable characters. It just felt completely soulless.

Furthermore, the dialogue was very strained, for me. Again, in an attempt to difference the usual and polite dialogue of the fae-touched, the mundane conversions between characters and the lingo Cathy insists on using feels too trendy and far too much like US English for a book set in Manchester, London and Bath. Hell, in daily life the people I know sound more like the fae-touched than anything else, so the dialogue definitely jarred. Naturally, this is a very subjective observation. (I’m also sick of characters being into Star Wars.)

In general, the book began too slowly, sagged in the middle and sprinted towards the end. There was no balance.

But! I appreciate what Newman is trying to do. Hell, I could love this setting if everything surrounding it pulled its weight a little more. I wanted to love this book. But there is always one book that appears on my anticipated list that fails to deliver—let’s hope that Between Two Thorns is the only one.

A messy, confused and awkward book that just didn’t do anything for me, but with masses and masses of untapped potential just beneath the surface. I’m hoping that in the next book, something clicks into place a little more.

Disappointed and honestly, a little meh. Poor book, but still, meh.

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