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Diversion Publishing, 2 August 2016
This is an updated version of my review of the first publication of this book, posted on Amazon in 2013. I have revised it and am posting to the blog for the first time to celebrate the republication in 2016 and the publication of the fourth book in the series, A Little Knowledge.
This is the second volume of Emma Newman's Split Worlds series (if you haven't read Between Two Thorns yet, go and do so - this isn't a series to pick up mid way). It improves on the first, which was already promising, building the tension up nicely. The book picks up from right where the first left off - this is one story not separate books - with Cathy Rhoeas-Papaver dragged back into the Nether by her tyrannical father, about to be married to a boy she doesn't know.
The Nether is a parallel world whose inhabitants seem to think they're living in the pages of Jane Austen (without the good bits). They are encouraged/ motivated by links to the Fae, supernatural beings who live (or are imprisoned?) in a third world, Exilium. The Fae act out their quarrels and plans through the families of the Nether, named after flowers associated with the Fae. This setup is policed by Arbiters, spell-wielding policemen, and Sorcerers.
The meat of this novel consists of Cathy struggling against the marriage her family wish on her, and William, the boy she is to marry, on the one hand, and Max, the Arbiter, on the other, dealing with some fairly tricky loose ends from Between Two Thorns. We also learn more of Sam, who featured in the first book, but whose relevance to the rest was a bit of a puzzle. Cathy is - necessarily - more constrained here, which could have made the book sag, but Newman avoids that by using her plight rather shrewdly to illustrate the position of women in a patriarchal society (yes, I know that sounds dull and worthy, but please believe me, it's not). William is also a focus both as he comes to terms with Cathy - and this isn't all nice by any means - and joins in Londinium politics, seeking to become "Duke" (on his patron, Lord Iris's, orders). It is a society of morning gowns, ball gowns, duels, etiquette, and hidden drudgery and oppression - one Cathy sought to avoid - all buttressed by the devious Fae. And there is another faction - the shady Elemental Court - which also seems to be manipulating the "puppets".
An excellent read, with the main characters becoming more distinct and three dimensional and in places rather contradictory (even those we're meant to boo are allowed partially redeeming details, such as Cathy's abusive father, whose life is shown to have been constrained by the Fae - if not as much as his daughter's).
The only slight defect (perhaps) is that in the first few pages a fair amount of information is repeated from the earlier book through helpful exposition by passing characters, and it seems a bit forced. It's not that the information isn't helpful - it is, because even in a few months one tends to forget the detail - but I wondered if this might have been done through a short synopsis. But that's a minor criticism. In this book Newman seems more confident with her characters and her invented world and she really spins the story along.