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Shadowhawk reviews the second novel in the Split Worlds urban fantasy series from Angry Robot Books.
“A wild, wild ride filled with charm, a lot of fun, a cheeky bit of cake, and a spot of mild peril.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
Emma Newman is one of my top finds this year as a reader. In true Angry Robot fashion, her first novel Between Two Thorns was a fantastic take on the urban fantasy genre. Quite different to the usual vampire/werewolf novels that are put out week after week by dozens of publishers. That’s not to say that the novel broke new ground really, since the regency fantasy subgenre is quite a thriving market, or so I’m told, but still, for someone just discovering (relatively speaking) urban fantasy, Between Two Thorns provided a nice bit of diversion and uniqueness at just the right time. And this is one of the reasons, apart from the world-building and characterisation and the story itself, why I loved that book so much and why I was looking forward to the sequel, Any Other Name.
Unlike its predecessor, Any Other Name is somewhat darker. There is more violence here, especially in the final act, and overall, the entire plot involves a massive political intrigue that is rather cut-throat and ruthless. And there is a lot more cursing in the novel this time around, especially from Catherine herself, the protagonist. Leastways that’s how it looked like. It was like I was coming across a curse word in at least every chapter, and then some. This was a bit weird, but not terribly so.
I remarked in my review for Between Two Thorns that the novel has a fairy-tale feeling to it and yet has a very mature reader appeal. This time around, the focus is more on the latter rather than the former. And honestly, I am a-okay with that. Surprised for sure, but not inadvertently so that I was put off the book. I’d even go so far as to say that hearing such unreserved cursing (however…. mild) was quite refreshing!
If there is one thing in the novel that really surprised me and caused me to wonder real hard, was why Catherine is so stubborn in her relationship with William. That is, why she is so deadset on throwing it all away and going off to Mundanus to live a life there, instead of trying to change things from the inside, so to speak. In the second half of the novel Emma Newman definitely hits on this, and it does a lot to redeem Catherine as a three-dimensional and nuanced character. In the first half of the book, she is always looking to be miserable and make others miserable because she just plain hates her life in the Nether. Sure, she’s had a really rough childhood, where she was ignored by her parents for who she wanted to be, what she liked etc and she was (and continues to be) forced to conform to societal expectations, but I still don’t get it. Especially since her husband makes so much effort to engage with her and give her whatever freedom she requires, without any interference from him.
As a story where a young woman is struggling to achieve some form of self-empowerment and make a life for herself, Any Other Name is a brilliant novel once you get past the protagonist’s stubbornness.
But that’s not all however, for there are many more plot threads being interwoven than the singular one above. We saw a lot of strange events happening in the previous novel and in this one, the author expands and builds on all of it. Someone is consolidating a hell of a lot of power and is making some rather over the top moves on the political chess board that is life in Mundanus and the Nether. And investigating all of this is Arbiter Max and his friendly stone gargoyle who is the most charming and brilliantly-written character in the novel. Working for the Sorcerer of Wessex, Max is hunting down all the strange goings-on in Londinium/London and in Bath/Aquae Sulis and elsewhere. And he is not having an easy time of it since the events keep getting more profound and troubling as the narrative progress. Watching his investigation proceed throughout adds significantly to the mystery aspect of the novel, and allows the author to introduce some great twists and turns in the narrative. The ending particularly, involving him and the Sorcerer, was handled really well.
Then there’s the entire arc involving computer engineer Sam and his train-wreck of a life, which started to go downhill in the previous novel when he met Max and Catherine and the Sorcerer, Mr. Erkstrand. We see a lot more of his personal life this time around, especially as it ties into his failing marriage, and we even get to see how he is rather integral to the plot involving the Fae themselves and the Elemental Court itself. Some really stirring stuff there. We get to see Sam grow significantly in the second half of the novel, and this was a great touch since it was something I’d been looking forward to in the novel, and something I definitely expected to happen. He is one of the most interesting characters in the novel, precisely because he is the only one from Mundanus who is a regular Joe who is involved in the entire political intrigue that the Split Worlds series is based on.
Each of the four primary characters, whether Catherine or Will or Max or Sam, stand for a particular aspect of the intertwined life of Mundanus and the Nether, and therefore, their individual character arcs become a commentary on that fact. They are each handled quite differently, and it is great to see the diversity that all four of them represent. It adds to the colour of the novel, and its charm, so I’m certainly in full support of this. Not that any is needed really since Emma’s writing speaks for itself. Quite highly in fact.
There were a few off-beat things in the novel, such as Catherine’s initially inexplicable (and frankly annoying) stubbornness and the fact that some key events seem to happen off-scene, especially when they are built up significantly through several chapters, but that’s really it. Nothing all that major in the grand scheme of things. More so because of the ending, which is quite the action-packed affair and puts a very, very startling spin on things in a way that I hadn’t expected. It was a high point of the novel in more ways than one and its great to see the novel end on such a high note, one that leads in perfectly to the third novel and also closes off several significant plot threads from this book.
In short, Any Other Name is a great sequel to an equally great novel, and you should definitely check both of them out. Hopefully I can get to the third and final novel, All Is Fair, quite soon. Hopefully before it is published in October!