The Split Worlds: Between Two Thorns
by Emma Newman
“That night in Bath was the third time Sam’s beer bladder had got him into trouble.”
Thus begins the saga of the Split Worlds… and it’s a great beginning. The opening scenes, as Sam attempts to alleviate himself and witnesses the wrong thing, introduce an atmosphere that runs throughout the novel: humor, danger, and a sense of the alien.
Newman has created an amazing world. Our cities are reflected in the Nether, a realm enslaved to the fae. Humans jockey for position in a society frozen in time. Of course, not everyone likes the society.
Cathy longed to escape slavery and fled to Mundanus – our world, with its technology and general disbelief in fairies. Alas, she is found and pulled back in just in time to be betrothed. She hates the games the human puppets of the fae must play, but now she’s caught.
Sam, a man from our world hoping to improve his marriage and maybe still get out to the pub on occasion, witnesses a fae abduction and suffers the fool’s curse.
Max is an arbiter, a man tasked with policing the fae and making sure they disrupt the mortal world as little as possible. He escapes the destruction of his chapterhouse and must track down the guilty party.
Will loves being a part of society in the Nether. He’s been betrothed to Cathy. He only wants to play the game well. He wants the best for Cathy, too – and the best way to do that is to play the game.
All four collide when a high-ranking member of Nether society is kidnapped.
Newman has accomplished what so few authors can achieve: create a society that one character loathes and another loves, yet not paint either character as an idiot. Cathy hates the Nether; Will enjoys it. As we see through both characters’ eyes, we see both sides of the story. Each of her point-of-view characters are likable and relatable. She also dances through scenes at just the right pace; I never felt the pull of “but I want to read about that person” that so often happens in these kind of novels.
Her characters aren’t the only ones that shine. The setting shows imagination. The political maneuverings of the fae are always equally alien and just at the tip of comprehension. The interplay between the worlds provide for plenty of creativity. Newman also excels at introducing the setting; while we begin firmly in our world, the step-by-step presentation of the Nether (and beyond!) lets the setting unfold. We discover it at a pace that holds interest but never infodumps.
The plot never sits still. As is normal for an Angry Robot book, the status quo is never quite quoed. One of the opening scenes sets up what I had assumed would be the big finale of the book; however, that particular conflict resolved halfway into the story, setting up further tensions to be resolved at the true climax.
I’m happy to report that while there is definitely romantic tension in the novel, this is a far cry from any angsty supernatural romance. Don’t worry about unrequited love or longing stares here.
However, I do have one complaint: The novel is clearly a “volume one.” About seventy pages from the end, I asked, “How is this going to resolve?” The simple answer is: many of the plots that most held my attention don’t resolve. The book itself does reach a satisfying conclusion for the main plot, but so many other threads remained untied. I am certain Newman intends to return to those threads in future installments of her series, but for now it leaves me a little underwhelmed. I’m hoping this resolves with volume two!
I have one other complaint tied to this one. Sam consistently attempts to improve his marriage, and it never seems to work. Granted, Newman does a good job keeping his wife from looking like a complete witch, but she seems relatively two-dimensional compared to the other characters. In the end, one of the unresolved plotlines is the state of Sam’s marriage. It’s a personal taste thing, I understand, but I would have strongly preferred to see that plotline reach a happy resolution.
Overall, the book is strong and I recommend it. There are some weaknesses, but most of those could be blamed on the book being volume one in a series. Great characters, fascinating setting, and a driving plot combine to make magic. Do you like modern-day imaginings of the fae? Do you like modern supernatural without the romantic melodrama? Check this one out. It’s worth your time.