Fantasy Review: ‘Any Other Name’ by Emma Newman

When I reviewed ‘Between Two Thorns’ I mentioned I would probably read its sequel once it came out.  Well, I did.  The first book of the Split Worlds series was enjoyable, easy to read and introduced a strong heroine in Catherine.  The introduction of the Nether, a land acting as a go between for the real world and the land of the Fae had an interesting set up.  Though I enjoyed it, I was consistently distracted by some holes in the world building.  An unexplained economy, inconsistencies in which technologies could be trusted, and the whole confusing power structure between the Fae, sorcerers, and arbitrators ultimately dragged down much of the story. 

None of these things have changed, I still have to take the world the author built as it is shown (and I don’t buy in to all of it).  For instance I still wonder why the people of the Nether decided that nineteenth century British life was the perfect place to stop adapting.  But going into the second book I have chosen to just accept it, work around it, and enjoy all the things that are right with the series.

In that vein I happily report that the second book is much better than the first.  A small part of that is ‘Any Other Name’ is allowed to avoid some of the tedious world set up.  Instead the author teases us with a little more info about the threads only touched upon in the first.  Several unanswered questions are from the previous book are brought up and resolved, several more questions are left for future books.  It is obvious that this is a series that the author plans on carrying for a while.

Cathy was already a fun character, but she is even stronger this time around.  While she still has to dance to the marionette (the people of the Nether are called puppets for a reason, and the true strength of the Fae is showing more), she is fighting for every opportunity; looking for her chances throughout, and snatching small victories where she can.  Max the arbitrator also returned, and while his arc takes a turn toward complete un-likability it is more consistent with the setup of man with a detached soul.  His gargoyle companion is more Disney sidekick than a real character, but is good for a small amount of comic relief.  A few other characters get some depth, though only Will can be said to be likable in any way, and him only by the standards of others in the Nether.

A couple of interesting plot lines this time around.  One has to do with Cathy’s new husband Will’s social climbing in the Nether’s London and the nasty, sometimes violent, politics that goes with it.  Cathy is also learning that she is not as unique in her ideas as she may have thought, and while only touched upon the start of a women’s rights movement has some seeds planted.  The ongoing investigation from the first book by Max and a sorcerer is a downer plot for me; it still feels completely unconnected and unimportant to the story.  No doubt this is something that will become clearer as the series progresses, but at the moment it is reading as a completely different book where the characters occasionally interact.

I rated the first book three stars, and have stated that this book is better.  I cannot think of any other series that has me turning pages any faster than this one, so it obviously is hitting me in some of the right spots.  I still have some issues with the world building obviously, but the strength of Cathy’s story overcomes it in my mind.  With this book the Split Worlds series has gained a place in my must read as soon as released list, I am officially invested in the story.

3 1/2 stars

Review copy received through NetGalley

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