Any Other Name (The Split Worlds #2)

It’s been an interesting year…
 
Cat has been forced into an arranged marriage with William – a situation that comes with far more strings than even she could have anticipated, especially when she learns of his family’s intentions for them both.

Meanwhile, Max and the gargoyle investigate The Agency – a mysterious organisation that appears to play by its own rules – and none of them favourable to Society.

Over in Mundanus, Sam has discovered something very peculiar about his wife’s employer – something that could herald a change for everyone in both sides of the Split Worlds.

Publisher: Angry Robot
Pub. dates: 28th May 2013 (ebook/US-Canada print); 6th June 2013 (UK print)
Where I got it: eARC courtesy of the publisher, via NetGalley (many thanks!)

Two books into the Split Worlds series, I think it’s safe to say Emma Newman’s done something that not many authors at all can do for me – get me interested in a type of story I wouldn’t normally be that interested in at all. I’m referring to the decidedly un-modern aspects of these stories, the prim-and-proper alt-Victorian lifestyle that those in the Nether, the world between Mundanus (our world) and Exilium (the world of the Fae), abide by. Beyond just dictating fashion choices or manners, the Great Families in the Nether live completely by the societal rules of this bygone era, and one of the obvious outcomes of this is the way in which women are treated, and expected to behave. Cathy struggles against this system as much as she can, but since her arranged marriage to William Reticulata-Iris her freedom has only diminished further. Instead of finding a way to run away and live her own life, as she had done at the beginning of Between Two Thorns (the first book in the series), Cathy begins to learn that it may well be much safer for her to learn to adapt, and find a way to regain some of the freedom she had within the life she has now, as Mrs Reticulata-Iris.

In what seems very much like the first hint at a wider-arc plot, however, we are given a scene in which Cathy raises the idea of women in high society not simply doing what’s expected of them. Of seeking an education of their own, the way she did before she was brought back to her family. This idea isn’t immediately put down by the women she’s talking with, which surprises Cathy – and pleases the heck out of me.
I love the idea that the status quo for women in the Nether might eventually change, or at least ease the strain upon Cathy somewhat, because while Newman’s style and the world she’s building is both fascinating and charming at times, it’s also impossible to imagine being able to tolerate it myself. (I read through just about every scene with Cathy’s younger sister Elizabeth wanting very badly to slap her repeatedly, for example.)

None of that is a complaint against the author, of course. It’s a credit to Newman’s talent, and to the strength of the fictional world she creates, that it affects me at all – and it does, from the curiosity of the magic charms and the lesser faeries, to the tricky and undeniably more sinister nature of the Fae lords – not to mention how it all affects the people in the middle, namely Cathy, her husband Will, and Sam, the mundane who, apparently, is far more than he seems to be …

If I was less than enthusiastic about any part of this story, it was definitely a certain turn of events concerning Will and Cathy, and the ‘duty’ impressed upon her, both by her own family and Will’s, and Will himself, to be the dutiful wife to her new husband. Playing the part in public settings, I could understand, but I found myself hoping for more leniency from Will in the privacy of their home. While he’s as much a product of his upbringing and environment as anyone in the Nether, there were moments when it seemed Will might change his ways for Cathy’s sake. Again, perhaps only at home, but even there I was eventually disappointed by the choices Will makes. I won’t spoil anything with details, but the scene in question made me pretty uncomfortable, and so if anything counts against that character here, it’s that.

But then, where would we be without a morally grey area to keep things interesting? In his (and Newman’s) favour, Will never comes across as irredeemably evil, or the obvious villain. In fact, two books in I’m still not entirely certain who, if anyone, the Real Bad Guy is. So much mystery! So many plots afoot! My misgivings about Will are certainly outweighed by how much I’m still enjoying all the intrigue, which has only gotten murkier and more curious since the first book. Notably, the twist in Sam’s tale. Who is ‘Lord Iron’? What’s the deal with the Elemental Court (more or less only mentioned by name)? And how will all of that connect back to the local Sorcerors, the Agency and the Great Families/the Fae themselves?

I feel rather like a fish on a hook, here. Once again – well played, Ms Newman.

At the time of writing this review there doesn’t seem to be an entry on Goodreads for this book, but I’d give it a solid 4 out of 5. I will definitely be adding a print copy to my shelves when the book’s released, and will absolutely stick with this series for the foreseeable future. If you enjoy tea and cake with your intrigue, then The Split Worlds is well worth getting into. I’m happy to say I’m glad I did.

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