The series title is more informative than the book title here. Between Two Thorns is volume 1 of the Split World series. World 1 is Mundanus, modern reality as most of us know it. World 2, The Nether, is a connected alternate reality set in Victorian era society where various clans ruled by individual Fae live as immortals. Cathy is born into one of the most prominent wealthy families in the Nether but she does not fit in. She doesn’t like the strict social rules and want to be a modern Mundane. When she comes of age, when she gets her customary wish, she wishes to go to university in the Mundanus. Cathy then runs away and hides from her family and patron Lord Poppy. Three years into her solo life, the story opens. She has been discovered, and forced to return to the Nether, but not before her Mundane boyfriend gets dragged into trouble. The trouble stems from mysterious trouble in the Nether, and is related to Cathy’s family. Cathy’s family patron, the Fae Lord Poppy thinks she’s interesting and grants her 3 wishes. Wish 1 is accidentally used to cause her friend Nick trouble (it attracts the attention of the Fae related trouble somehow connected to her uncle’s kidnapping), and she has to use wish 2 to get him out of it. Wish 3 is the one that’s going to have a lasting impact on the plot, and Cathy reveals what that wish is towards the end of this volume.
Cathy’s Uncle Lavandula is an important person in Nether, and he has been kidnapped. Max the arbiter whose soul is stuck in a gargoyle is sent to investigate the disappearance, and runs into Cathy. The Arbiters and Sorcerers, who are supposed to supervise and keep the two worlds separate, are in disarray for reasons unknown (another problem Max is looking into). Also relevant to this threat is Sam who accidentally witnesses the kidnapping while on his way home from an evening of drinking and gets drawn in to the problems too.
There are a lot of plot threads and possible mysteries but they all run together and they are pretty well managed. The characters are what really help the story to shine. Cathy wants to be a modern independent woman, but she’s dragged back to a society with very strict social and gender expectations, and to make matters worse, she finds out when she is brought home that her marriage has been arranged to the son of another prominent family, and he expects her to act like a proper Victorian social lady, and soon wife. Cathy is not pretty (as she is constantly told), and she was educated by a woman who taught her the basics of feminism and the joys of reading things like science fiction, neither of which are socially acceptable. She is also socially awkward in spite of belonging to a socially prominent family.
All of this makes for a lot of action and adventure, but also interesting character and character interaction as various perspectives come together and either work together or clash. Cathy gets caught by her fiancée Will setting up a sorcerer trap that will enable the reveal of the conspiracy behind her uncle’s disappearance, and to Cathy’s’ surprise Will agrees to help them out. We meet Will before Cathy does, and it looks like his family and situation are, like Cathy’s, more complex than they might seem. The same goes for Will himself, although he fits into his world pretty comfortably. He ends up taking all the credit for saving her uncle and revealing the conspiracy, but that doesn’t seem to bother Cathy too much. She’s far too concerned with figuring out how to get out of the wedding. The problem is that unknown to her until the final pages, the wedding will be the next day, and in order to keep her from running away again, her mother tricks her into drinking tea spiked with a potion that renders Cathy unable to think or act clearly. To be continued…
I’m just glad I found this series with four volumes already published, so I don’t have to wait to see what happens next. The problem will be what to do when I get through volume four, but I’ll deal with that when I get there.