Between Two Thorns – Emma Newman

About the Book

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 with 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 enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.

But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

384 pages (paperback)
Published on February 26, 2013
Published by Angry Robot
Author’s webpage

This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

Occasionally I will get a book for review, and I end up really enjoying it despite the fact that it has a handful of issues that should probably keep me from liking it. This is a rare occurrence, but when it does happen, usually it’s because the book charmed me enough for me to enjoy it despite its problems. Such is the case with Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman.

Between Two Thorns is charming for numerous reasons. Newmann keeps things fresh and alive by smashing together a lot of things that usually don’t successfully manage such smashing. For example, she meshes real world England with Regency style England. She also merges together fae, sorcerers, and humans nicely, and weaves a plot through it all that should keep many people entertained. On top of all of that, she doesn’t seem to drop the oh-so-sexy romantic interest in the middle of her book, which I was honestly expecting. It’s light, unique, fluffy, and fast paced. It ticks off a lot of boxes.

The problem really lies in the execution. The first problem the book encounters is that there are far too many perspectives for such a rather simple plotline. This can make the narrative feel clunky and it also slows down the pacing somewhat so it feels like events take too long to happen. The numerous perspectives just seemed to highlight how mundane the story really is – another story about a girl trying to break out of her gender-based social cocoon.

My real issue with Between Two Thorns was how campy much of it seemed, when coupled with the lack of any real historical presence, this campiness stopped being cute and started being annoying really fast. For example, the head honcho of Cathy’s family is named Poppy, who is accompanied by a fairy (complete with wings) and often says absurd things that make him look like a pretentious moron. Now, that’s probably exactly what Newman was going after, but it gets exhausting. If I can’t take these characters seriously, how are the people involved in the story supposed to?

Then, coupled with that is a lack of “history.” The world building is interesting, but there’s nothing that really grounds it. There are three separate but overlapping worlds – interesting concept, but poorly executed. The Regency version of Bath feels less like another world/dimension and more like a step back in time. Furthermore, unless I missed some big portions of information, readers never really learn why certain people live in the Regency world, and why people like Poppy live in the “prison” he lives in (and why is it a prison? And if it is a prison, as he refers to it, how can he leave it?). Why do they shun so many human inventions? Are they humans? The problem is, there are too many questions, and these are questions that are prompted by poor world building. I don’t like reading a 384 page book and feeling almost more confused when I leave it than I felt before I even started it.

All of these elements work together to make Between Two Thorns a book that had a lot of potential but tripped up along the way.  However, as I read it I realized that despite how frustrated some of these issues made me, I was still rather charmed by it. The plot is campy at best and some of the dialogue is laughable. Poppy was, perhaps, one of the most annoying characters for how absolutely unbelievably buffoonish he is. But despite all of that, I read this book and I enjoyed it. It’s light and fast, and you sort of have to turn your brain off while you read, but some of the ridiculous nature of it is why it is so charming.

It took me till the end of the book to realize that a lot of what annoyed me was things Newman purposefully wrote the way she did to poke fun at numerous tropes that tend to bother me in fiction. I wish the world had felt more believable, that a lot of the “whys” it raised in me were answered in the writing of it, and fewer perspectives would have worked better – but a lot of the culture and the over-the-top nonsense seemed to be deliberately placed in the text to make readers more aware of such nonsense. It’s a subtle poking-of-fun by the author, but it worked, and for that reason, I enjoyed this book despite myself.

Between Two Thorns was an interesting premise with a flawed execution. However, it’s a mark in the author’s favor that a book that seemed so flawed to me managed to hook me anyway. I probably missed the train early on, but at the end I realized that Between Two Thorns is less of a serious novel and more of a subtle, humorous exploration of numerous genre tropes. Once I realized that, I ended up thinking this was one hell of a clever book. It might not float everyone’s boat, but it is a lot of fun and despite its flaws, Between Two Thorns has the power to charm.


3/5 stars

3 Responses

  • The whole series went that way for me. Each book was entirely readable, even enjoyable. I liked several of the characters, especially the protagonist more and more as the series went. But each time I I had pages of perceived plot holes and other such issues in my mind. I had a hard time not making reviews a series of questions I wanted answers about.

    Still, good enough that I read all three books.

  • I think I have this one plus its sequel sitting around that I haven’t read yet, and I generally tend to read positive reviews for the series as a whole. I’m been in the mood for some lighter reader material lately, taking a break from some of the more series stuff I’ve been buried in (and know I’ll be buried in again soon); maybe this would be a good series to go on a mental vacation with, so to speak.

  • Dan J.

    On top of all of that, she doesn’t seem to drop the oh-so-sexy romantic interest in the middle of her book, which I was honestly expecting.

    Can you please explain what that sentence means? She has a romantic interest in the beginning of the book and you expected her to drop (wrap up/remove) that plot thread in the middle but she didn’t, so the romance continues through the whole book? She has no romance in the beginning and you expected her to drop (add) a romantic interest into the middle of the book and she didn’t, so there is no romance in the book at all? Something else?

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