With the advent of DVRs, Netflix, Amazon Instant and DVD/Blu-Ray’s of TV seasons have come binge watching; devouring an entire season over a relatively short time period. Well, I’ve indulged in my first binge reading since I read Lord of the Rings over a long summer weekend (I think 4-5 days) back in middle school: the Split Worlds Trilogy has me doing some serious binge reading. I started over the Christmas holiday, and finished the series just after the new year begun. So what was it about this series that pulled me in? Well, it’s fabulous for reasons I’ve given for Between Two Thorns and will enumerate here as well. The real push is probably that Ms. Newman can write a serious cliffhanger. Is Catherine going to find a way out of the marriage? Will Sam save his? If they do marry, will Catherine find her true love with William or go back to Josh? Can she really escape the Fae? So Between Two Thorns left me hanging in a major way. As the DVR and streaming services enabled our TV addictions, so too the Kindle (and Audible) enables our reading addictions. I doubt it was 3 minutes from completing Between Two Thorns to downloading and reading Any Other Name. I can see a little beagle shaking his paw and yelling: “Curse you Amazon.”
Before I fully begin, please note that Any Other Name rests on the foundation of Between Two Thorns; read this trilogy in order. Since it’s able to rely on that story, Any Other Name is able to really focus on the story line and characters. Not that there aren’t more revelations about the Split Worlds, Ms. Newman continues that slow reveal woven throughout the story, but the Split Worlds are now fundamentally known.
****Spoiler Alert for those who haven’t read Between Two Thorns (review for that book is here)****
William and Catherine are being pushed into a marriage, indeed into a life, that is controlled by the Fae lords, their family’s Patroon and other members of family and society. If they fail, they risk far more than being shunned. As they move their way between crises, we see more clearly the mechanizations of the Fae lords, the Patroon and the men and women desperate to cling to their status as part of the Great Families of society. There is little they won’t do to further establish their family lines. The pressures are enormous.
***Light spoiler alert ***
This is brought home when William is told that he must become Duke of Londinium and take it for the Iris line. The prospect of being Duchess scares Cathy in itself, but even more so as a road block to her plans for mundane freedom; plans that are diminishing but still flicker. Even as William and Catherine dance around these issues, the Split Worlds are being attacked on a global scale by forces within. Sorcerers seem to have lost control of the Fae whilst the sinister Agency seems to have for more reach than merely supplying “the help”.
One of the many aspects I love about the Split Worlds (and which leads to their sense of realism) is that almost all the characters (and situations) have a human quality to them. With rare exception, the characters are not wholly good or bad. William works to be honorable but is often blinded by the world in which he was raised. Sam blunders about in ignorance and a history of complacency even as he tries to make the world a better place. While Sorcerer Ekstrand is trying to do what’s right, he’s a bit whacked. Max seems to blindly follow him. Even Cathy starts out a bit self-focused. No, these characters are human, with all of the foibles that entails.
The Fae lords, on the other hand, seem to personify original sin. Each wants to be god of the world and control everything. Their almond black eyes remind us that they are utterly alien and will accept all ends to their means. Now this is not to say they’re all alike; Poppy is as different from Iris as Sam from William but they equally like to get their way and have no moral qualms in doing so.
Even though the challenges are on a magical scale, they are managed in a human way. They are complicated and difficult to work through. They must be solved without an omniscient grasp of the information. The characters mess up. There is no silver bullet as they take on genuine risk. This is a world you and I could enter.
Finally, I simply want to point out how that Ms. Newman isn’t just phenomenally clever in devising these tales, but she is fundamentally a brilliant storyteller in using all that is within her arsenal to bear, the characters, setting, phrasing and even the tone in her voice for the audio book, to create great story. These different elements are brought in organically, so much so that you can’t answer if this is a book about characters or narrative; is it about world-building or relationship or is about well-crafted writing or the big picture? The answer is yes. The words, the worlds, the people and the ties between are all used to build the story, never simply for their own sake. Hence the avoidance of explanatory asides and monologue. Even revealing more of the history of the Split Worlds and additional aspects of it are done so to move the story.
I have nothing new to add to my comments from my Between Two Thorns review on the Audible book side other than to say she continues her lovely narration.
Well done, Ms. Newman. Shockingly, we’ll see that the series just keeps getting better in All is Fair, however, that review is for another day.