between two thornsTitle: Between Two Thorns

Author: Emma Newman

Publisher: Angry Robot

Published: Out Now

RRP: Print £8.99 – Kindle £5.49

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 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 Arbiter’s enemies can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.

 But can she be trusted, she a daughter of one of the Great Families of Aquae Sulis, a family allied to one of the most powerful Fae Lords. And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

This is a beautifully crafted story, the characters fit, the settings fit; everything fits. Reading it you’d expect it to be the author’s 4th or 5th book, but this is Emma Newman’s debut novel; and it doesn’t show. Emma’s been very ambitious leading up to the release of this book, she embarked on a project of releasing a short story a week for a year, all set somewhere within the Split Worlds. I signed up and received an email every week and really enjoyed them all. It was a taste of what was to come, but upon starting this book I realised she’d saved the best for these pages.

Long ago there was a war between the Fae and sorcerers, the sorcerers won and the Split Worlds were created. The normal world (our world called Mundanus and humans are referred to as Mundanes) is devoid of magic and is off limits to the Fae. The Fae are trapped in Exilium, a prison from which there is no escape. Between the two, the Nether – neither here nor there – a world locked in time, its people living a strict caste system, a world where the puppets of the Fae live and plot and scheme. Great Families; all allied to one Fae Lord or another, all vying for power. But much like the Fae they too are trapped in their own prison. Making sure the Fae and Great Families behave – and do not interfere in Mundane life – are the Arbiters, soulless guardians immune to Fae magic, led by a sorcerer who has the power to force the Fae and their puppets to do as they are bid.

This is the Split Worlds, each world unlike the other. It’s a nice twist that Exilium – the Fae prison – is seen as a beautiful world, full of colour, dance, music. Whereas the Nether is dull monochrome, a silver sky, no stars, no sun, no day, no night; its people ageless and trapped. Emma manages to bring each of these worlds vividly to life, no detail is left unclear, the worlds themselves characters as well.

Emma’s work over the previous year with her weekly short stories means she is freed up here to get straight into the story. That being said you can read this without having prior knowledge of what came before; there is ample world building so you know what is what, and who is who. Several strands are started in the opening chapters that run the length of the book, and interestingly not all the strands are tied off in the closing chapters. There are a couple of late reveals that leave the book on a sort of cliff hanger. This bodes well for the future of the Split Worlds.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book; I’ve recently got into stories about Fae and Fae magic. This adds a nice twist to that mythology and it’s obvious from the off that Emma knows and loves what she is writing about.