Title: Any Other Name
Author: Emma Newman
Publisher: Angry Robot
Published: Out Now
RRP: Print – £8.99 / Kindle – £5.49
Lady Rose has fallen, all those associated to her were taken by the Agency, and the lucky ones have escaped into hiding. Londinium is in turmoil, the Duke – a Rosa – is gone along with his Patroon, leaving a power vacuum. William Reticulata-Iris is told upon his wedding that he has been chosen to take residence in Londinium and take the throne. But William has doubt his new wife – Catherine – is up for the task. Catherine knows she isn’t, she has been forced into an arranged marriage, sent to a city she does not know, and finds herself part of a family that expects its members to follow orders unfalteringly, no matter what.
The Arbiter Max, along with the gargoyle that houses his soul, continues his investigations into the murder of everyone in his Chapter House. Those investigations take him north and the secret base of the Agency, where he uncovers deeper mysteries surrounding fallen houses, and those that do not conform to what is seen to be acceptable in Society.
Sam, the unwitting Mundane who seems to have the protection of the mysterious Lord Iron, sees his life implode, his marriage fail and his job gone. Becoming embroiled in the events surrounding the Master of Ceremonies of Aquae Sulis kidnapping have left him a man unsure what is real and what is not. And also leads him to once again become involved in the plots and games the Fae and their Puppets enjoy.
With this second story set in the Split Worlds Emma has upped the stakes considerably, she has also altered the tone, highlighting the plight of women in the patriarchal society of the Fae touched. Arranged marriages, suppression of expression, hints at honour crimes and the disturbing subject of marital rape. This is a much darker tale, gone are the whimsical fairies who took such joy at making the Fae touched puppets dance, now we are presented with a society where women have no rights, except the right to perform properly for their husbands, and uphold the standing of the family in Society.
As much as I’d like to think of William, on some levels, as a sort of good guy, overall I can’t get away from the fact he’s every inch the product of his society as Catherine’s abusive father. He may not have physically hurt her, but he still expects the devotion to Society, and family, her father expected. Also his reaction to the possibility she may love another – despite him having a mistress – showed how he views Catherine, and his mistress come to that. Despite this he is still the only one of all the Fae touched male characters who shows any indication that he could change, his experiences on his Grand Tour seem to have opened his eyes to the larger world, beyond the Nether. But there is a long way to go for the William now to become anywhere near the hero of the piece he could be.
As for Catherine, she is a different character from the one first encountered in Between Two Thorns, she is less confident, in fact for the first part of the book this change in her did become testing, but I can see why it was done. Emma had to get Cathy into a place where she realised something had to be done for all the women of the Nether, and not be selfish and only think of her own needs. Her arc in this book is the most striking, we see her grow into her role, realising that in order for there to be change, change has to come from within.
But events are working against everyone – mainly William and Cathy – and no matter what they both feel and want forces outside of their control are moving pieces into position for a conflict that may have been in the planning for a long time. This time round we see that maybe the Sorcerer’s are not as all-powerful as first suggested, in fact Erkstrand seems even more distant, out of touch, than he did last time. There are some serious turns of events for the Sorcerer of Wessex, and Max and the gargoyle. In fact the gargoyle is fast becoming my favourite character, his childlike enthusiasm to believe the best in people is infectious. But I do feel he is wasted, there are several times when I wished he would bash heads, but perhaps Emma is saving that for the coming conflict?
This time out Emma has opened up the world of the Fae touched, there are glimpses of the power struggles, the schemes and hints at the dark deeds driving this story along. As with her first book don’t expect a tidy package, this is so evidently part of a wider story, a story we have yet to pass the opening section of. She is sparing in the information she shares, but gives you enough to keep going, and when you turn that last page enough to make you think “damn, that’s it!” For cliff-hangers to work – whether on TV, or in comics and books – they need to give enough to grab the reader, but hold back enough to make you come back. You get that in spades in the closing chapters.