Book cover: Between Two ThornsMatters come to a head as Max investigates what happened to his fellow Arbiters, and Cathy uncovers a clue linking the Rosas to the disappearance of the Master of Ceremonies. Can she and Will forge an alliance to uncover Horatio’s treachery?

1. We seem to have a number of separate threads even by the end of the book – what do you make of it all so far. Were you surprised by any of the final revelations?

I’ll take my points for spotting the Rosa intrigue was on command. My main surprise was the harshness of the punishments – I was rather expecting Lady Rose to get away with a slapped wrist and live to agitate another day. Not so. The Fae are merciless and the implications for the Rosas dire. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone (and I think rather less of Will for the implication that he went ahead and took advantage of the poor French girl abroad). Instead, we get a villainous Sorcerer to worry about for future instalments. I can run with that.

I did feel the ending was a bit ‘episode of the week’ – more things left hanging than resolved. I like my books to feel a bit more complete in their own right (especially when they’re the first in a series – give me a chance to get the flavour; save the cliffhangers for once I’m hooked). That said, I’ve got no qualms about tuning in next week for more – I am being entertained by the antics of all the factions.

 

 

2. What are your impressions of the world that Emma Newman has created here?

With the mock-historical Nether and all the arch social situations, it feels like an excellent setting for really catty, ruthless and political roleplaying (which I have a huge soft spot for, and which is more or less what I understand happened at the Masquerade Ball). There’s nothing to like here, because the world is built out of privilege and viciousness; but it’s fascinating seeing how that is being built up.

That said, the world beyond the social interaction has felt quite impressionist – flashes of concepts that appear to hang together but go unexplored, allowing the narrative to focus on people and relationships in this first book. For me there’s lots that remains unclear, and I hope we’ll see the depths as we go on. But the core concepts of Exilium, the Nether and Mundanus – and the Arbiters keeping the peace – are strong and fascinating, which is enough to get me started. I’m looking for more little touches like the lack of rose decoration in Horatio’s new home – the minor details that support just how smothering this society is.

 

3. Do you have any favourite characters so far? Any characters that you’re still not sure of and who do you positively dislike?

I like Will in spite of myself, which doesn’t stop me disapproving of him almost constantly. I have a long history of enjoying villains and loving protagonists who I can’t approve of. On this basis, I have no problem enjoying Will and wanting to smack him.

Conversely, I struggle with Cathy even though she nominally represents things I care about deeply (self-determination, equality, not stepping to victory on the backs of your fellows). She’s the reader’s route into understanding the Nether, but for me she’s too normal and it’s undermining my sense of her authenticity. I look at the rest of her generation and marvel that she survived Mundanus on her own – and I would like her better if I had a better sense of that struggle (which would also show off her intelligence, resourcefulness and determination, which I really need to see more of). One of the things that I feel is missing is the back story of how she was so thoroughly subverted. So for me Cathy is a bit unsatisfying (and then the sulking, which is natural and understandable and I hate myself for being so judgemental, but… it annoys me). I think it’s fair to say she’s not my favourite sort of heroine. I’m a really hard task mistress, aren’t I? She has all the right ingredients, and yet I haven’t warmed to her.

My favourites remain Max, Ekstrand and his household. They are horribly prejudiced, but with good reason and I look forward to seeing a lot more of them to understand how the world actually works.

My least favourite, which will surprise nobody, is Sam. He pushes most of my buttons in almost every scene he’s in.

 

4. What are your predictions for moving into the next story?

I am all agog to see how Will and Cathy’s marriage works out. This is… unusual for me. I don’t read romance and I’m usually far more interested in almost any other aspect of a novel but this one interests me as a clash of personalities. Will they find their common ground and become a formidable team? That could make for good stories. Will they continue to snipe and become each other’s downfall, constantly undermining one another? That could be frustrating, but also has possibilities.

I’m predicting we’ll see more from Max’s point of view as the villainy shifts to the Sorcerer of Essex, which hopefully means more Gargoyle and more Ekstrand too.

As for Lord Poppy and the Fae, I have no predictions. I expect they keep on being arbitrary and self-involved (I think this is a safe bet).

 

So far, Between Two Thorns fits the same spot in my heart as the Incryptid series – it’s an entertaining ride, but it’s a popcorn read (this is not a bad thing. I like popcorn, as evidenced by my movie preferences). However, it has the massive benefit of featuring the Fae. I have a huge weakness for Fae done well, and Emma Newman is right on target.

 

Enjoyed the read-along? We’re heading straight on into Any Other Name:

  • 6th June: Chapters 1-6, hosted by Over The Effing Rainbow
  • 13th June: Chapters 7-13, hosted here at One More
  • 20th June: Chapters 14-20, hosted by Lynn’s Books
  • 27th June: Chapters 21-End, host TBC
Questions, chitchat and links to all participants can be found on GoodReads and on Twitter by following @SFFReadalongs.