Book cover: Between Two ThornsCatherine Rhoeas-Papaver has been dragged back to Aquae Sulis to be married, but first she must impress Lord Poppy and cast her final wish. Max the Arbiter is desperate to understand who destroyed his Chapter, but he doesn’t understand the political waters he must now navigate. And politics are deadly in the Nether…

It’s our second week in the Split Worlds, and our protagonists are in all sorts of hot water. The best swordsman in the Rosa family (and possibly in the country) has taken offence at one of Cathy’s wishes, and her brother Tom seems to have lost his sympathetic edges in the 3 years Cathy has eluded her family. Can she find any friends in Aquae Sulis?

This week we’re being hosted by Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings:

 

1. We get to meet Will and see a couple of different sides to him. What do you think of Cathy’s betrothed?

Will strikes me as a fairly familiar scion of the archetypical 1%: he’s very sure of himself, he’s been living it up while away from the family apron strings, and he’s a little sad to be giving up his freedoms (wait, let me get the world’s smallest violin). We see very little of him that makes me think he’s anything other than self-absorbed. It’s all about one-upping Nathaniel, keeping Imogen out of his hair, and hopefully scoring a hot wife. While he appears to ‘rescue’ Cathy from social embarrassment, it still looks more like self-interest to me – she’s going to be his wife, so any stain on her reputation will sully his. He’s going to have to work a lot harder to convince me he’s a sympathetic character.

 

2. The Sorcerer seems to be acting a bit inconsistently, any ideas what is going on with him?

I love Ekstrand and his staff. The awkward coaching on social niceties and constant checking a mental list of whether he’s getting it right are either incredibly endearing (and Ekstrand isn’t the only mad professor who has needed a hand)…

Flashcards from Doctor Who Season 9 Episode Under the Lake - tips on social etiquette for the Doctor
Clara could give Ekstrand some tips

…or an amusing hint that maybe he’s an impostor and none of these people are who they seem. How would Max know? He wouldn’t. Has the real Sorcerer actually been swept up in Lady Rose’s plot and replaced by someone – or something – else? Is that why he’s obstructing any suggestion that the massacre be made public? I’m probably over-complicating it; I’ll be perfectly happy if he’s an amiable nutter who has radically different attitudes and/or abilities on different days of the week / phases of the moon.

 

3. Things are starting to link up now that we have context for the events at the beginning of the book, but how do you think it all connects together? Could it really be all coincidence? How do you think Cathy will tie into Max’s story?

We now know Sam saw the abduction of the Lavandula Master of Ceremonies at the end of that drunken night out, and we have a pretty good clue who was behind it. Combined with Horatio Gallica-Rosa’s move against the Rhoeas-Papavers (well done Cathy for pulling Horatio’s claws) and the introduction of the Princess Rani by the Alba-Rosa’s at the Ball, Lady Rose’s people appear to be moving aggressively to seize influence in Aquae Sulis.

Was she behind the murder at the Chantry – and was that a coordinated move, rather than a response to Max’s activities in London? Or is the answer a little too neat? That rose in the mouth is a calling card – if she is behind it, she’s not interested in hiding it – which always sits badly with me in an environment this poisonously political. Is Lady Rose being set up?

…if she is, my money is on Lord Poppy. How convenient that he chose to find Catherine now, when the Rosa’s are trying to dominate Aquae Sulis (and how very elegant to undercut their fanfare by Apparating Cathy in a gorgeous gown in the middle of the dancefloor).

I’m not sure how this will connect Max and Cathy, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

 

4. We get up close and personal with Cathy’s family. What do you think of her brother Tom and sister-in-law Lucy? Her parents? Do you think she’ll have any allies going forward?

Tom is interesting – he initially seems to be taking the family line and to be unwilling to consider Cathy’s perspective, but he does let her bully him into going to London, which he has to know will land them in hot water sooner or later. And he does take her to his house, rather than to their parents’. Still, I think he’s so immersed in the world of the Fae-touched that he’ll struggle to disobey his social programming…

…unless he loves his wife. Lucy hits two distinct notes for me simultaneously: the non-conforming New World wife trope (married for her money, in spite of the inevitable social gaffes) and an instinctive don’t trust her don’t trust her don’t trust her paranoia that I can’t really justify. I’m hoping she’s the former, in which case she should be at least a support for Cathy, if not a full-blown ally (but possibly both).

The Pater and Mater Rhoeas-Papaver are every bit as awful as I expected. One of my criticisms of Between Two Thorns so far is how straight it seems to be playing its archetypes. I like nuanced characters, so I’m hoping we’ll see enough to get more sympathy for Tom and Will at least, but maybe even for Cathy’s parents.

So the thick is plottening, and the claws are being sharpened. I’m settling into this now – I’ve still not really warmed to Cathy, but I love poisonous politics and the sharp thrusts of social fencing, so the Nether is entertaining. It’s all still a bit lightweight, but I’m starting to have fun.

 

Fancy joining in? Here’s the schedule:

Questions, chitchat and links to all participants can be found on GoodReads and on Twitter by following @SFFReadalongs.