All eyes on the Agency as Cathy takes them to task for over-servicing and the Sorcerer notices their business is conveniently unregulated. But Max has other concerns, as evidence gathers that Leanne’s employer may not be entirely Mundane. Across town, Will makes an uneasy peace with Cathy and gets cosy with the Alba-Rosas, but can his ambition to become Duke survive dinner with his main rival?

This week it’s my party, so I’ll try to be a good host and not get too angry.

1. Will wants to have his cake and eat it. Between his dealings with the Alba-Rosas and his efforts to coach Cathy for social success, how do you judge his behaviour this week?

I had a horrible moment reading Chapter 7, where I added Cornelius’s anxiety about Will to Will storming out of his row with Cathy and thought that he was going to storm into the Alba-Rosa household and take his frustrations out on Amelia. Arguably that’s exactly what he does, but it meant I was relieved when he did so by throwing himself at her feet rather than assaulting her.

On the one hand, WILL NO. Being unfaithful on your wedding night is a new low. On the other, I’d actually rather see Will and Cathy establish a marriage of convenience that gives her the freedoms to pursue her own goals than have the forced marriage turn out to be all fine because they fall in love. I also don’t have particularly strong feelings about sexual fidelity – but given how the rest of this week’s reading develops, I think this is going to blow up in his face. Cathy may not be interested now, but finding out Will is shagging Amelia is likely to destroy any tentative relationship-building – not least because WHY THE HELL SHOULD HE GET TO SLEEP AROUND WHEN CATHY CAN’T EVEN SHAKE HANDS WITH ANOTHER MAN?

Putting Amelia aside (so to speak), I thought Will was wise to strike his deal with Cornelius. I got the sense Cornelius was mostly collateral baggage when Will intervened in Bath, but he can be useful – and much better to have a grateful ally than a seething dependent. Politically, well-played.

I was less enthusiastic about him coaching Cathy. Yes, I get that it’s important for Will that his wife has social polish. Yes, I get that Cathy doesn’t. I get that he thinks he’s helping her. But I also get REALLY FUCKED OFF by men telling women what to do and this being normalised or encouraged. So I had a small row with my best beloved when he half-jokingly tried to tell me I wasn’t to bring any more M&S bite-size tea cakes home (they’re basically chemical foam in a shitty chocolate shell; I know this. I like them anyway. He doesn’t). I may have had a sense of humour failure and over-reacted.


2. Cathy seems to be taking on the Agency – just as Max is sent to investigate them. Is she biting off more than she can chew?

I’m so intrigued by the Agency – they’re starting to seem super-sinister! And I loved that Cathy wiped the floor with the salesman (I’m running a procurement project at the moment; I am SO SICK of salesmen, so I was totally cheering her on) and then went on to talk the ladies through the issues at dinner.

…given the Sorcerer’s circumspection, I totally think she’s biting off more than she can chew. But there’s scope here for a cause that would benefit from her having social status and allow her to do good and fight for social improvements (because I seriously doubt the Agency has ethical employment contracts, and it’s clearly a bit of a slave auction for those who are in disgrace). And while I do believe in her right to step out of the world and go back to university and live a quiet life, that sort of thing doesn’t tend to fit into a heroine’s future, unlike – say – shaking the very foundations of her world. Shake, Cathy, shake.

As an aside, part of me is already shaking (with laughter) at the way Emma Newman has translated unethical monopolistic corporate into Fae-bound terms. Bravo. Too big to fail? Too embedded to uproot? We’ll see.

 

3. Max drops a lot of hints that Leanne may not be entirely her own woman any more. What do you think is going on at Leanne’s flat? – and do you think there’s any chance for Sam to save his marriage?

I am reserving judgement on this storyline lest I start to rant again. We established in Between Two Thorns that I’ve got pretty thin skin for a narrative that suggests a man is right to feel hard done by his wife having a career, and if we move into a narrative where a woman pursuing a career is equated to being under alien influence I may lose my shit. Do I think it’s right that pursuing a career often means changes in style, physical appearance and demeanour because of the social pressures exerted on women in the workplace? No, which is why I sat and took shit on Twitter from nitwits (not just men) who refuse to recognise the issue of high heels (wear them if you want; I do when I want. But don’t tell me it’s acceptable that women should HAVE to wear them to be considered professional). 

Hang on, ranting. Sorry. Err, where was I? Right – Leanne. The point is that if Leanne were a man, there would be no comment on how she’s changed to get ahead in business. Her wife would simply be expected to support them. Sam rejects them (good) and is being given excuses to do so (which is why my eye is straying to the side) rather than being able to have a constructive conversation about it.

But here’s the thing that is slowly dawning on me while I take a breath in between unintended rants: Emma Newman may be genius (or a charming troll, depending on your perspective. Or both). My inner feminist hasn’t got this riled up in ages, let alone on so many fronts. It’s like every thread is designed to provoke and make her readers think. I think it’s too cleverly done to be an accident. Quite the opposite – I think she wants us angry, and well done – it worked.

 

4. We get our first glimpse of London Society at the Tulipas ‘intimate’ dinner, and we get a hint that Cathy might be tempted to adapt her goals. What did you think of how she handled herself at dinner – and of how she reacted on the way home?

I deserve a medal for making it through this week without stabbing someone with a forkThis scene. THIS CHAPTER. This is my favourite thing of everything we’ve read. Cathy was GLORIOUS (keep your coaching, Will) – so comfortable when distracted by topics of interest that I half-wondered at one point whether she had been Charmed or whether her artistic talent potions were having unintended benefits. And then how she handled the drunken old lech – holding eye contact with Will the whole time (I hope you’re paying attention, Will, and think what she may do to you if she gets angry. Or finds out about Amelia). Well done, Cathy, you have won me over.

…here’s hoping she can impress Lord Iris.

I am enjoying Any Other Name more than I enjoyed Between Two Thorns. This is partly because my expectations are now better aligned, but also because I hoped for character development, and I’m getting it. I am impressed that I have gone from last week’s total rage to being prepared to forgive almost (almost) anything. That’s the power of a fork, right there.

 

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.