BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Catherine Rhoeas-Popaver’s desire for emancipation, her new husband ambition, and scheming by all sides complicate their arrival among the London social set.
PROS: Excellent character development and growth; intriguing worldbuilding increases the richness of an already rich world; wonderful narration by the author.
CONS: The novel patently cannot be read without reading the first; a concordance would be very welcome.
BOTTOM LINE: A superb second entry into the Split Worlds universe that expands the playground and changes the focus interestingly.
Any Other Name is the second Split Worlds novel from Emma Newman. The Split Worlds series — starting with Between Two Thorns and concluding with All is Fair — occupies a distinctive niche in Urban Fantasy. In a world of Harry Dresdens, Sookie Stackhouses, Toby Dayes, and many others, the characters and world of Any Other Name is definitely different. There are no women with tramp stamps here, no fireballs in back alleyways, no werewolves camping in Rock Creek Park.
Instead, an elevator pitch one might use to describe the series and universe is Downtown Abbey meets Changeling: The Dreaming. Feuding long-lived families, live mostly in the border world between the prison of the Fae. Things on Earth reflect onto the Nether, however, and so the Great Families must have their fingers and influence in Earth as well as their shadow realm. And so, they are drawn into conflict with each other and the other magical powers that inhabit Newman’s world, powers that have their own agendas. Being so long lived, these families are extremely conservative and rigid, especially when a young scion seeks to escape the role ordained for her since before her birth.
The worldbuilding of the Split Worlds series continues to develop well in this second volume. For the main part, the action of the novel switches from Bath/Aquae Sulis to London/Londinium. In a real way, the canvas is not only new, but it’s bigger and less of a hothouse than the relatively parochial families in Bath. We also get a wider lens into more powers running around the universe of the Split Worlds, and, as we got to meet the insane Lord Poppy in the first novel, the second novel introduces a second faerie Lord as a character, William’s family’s patron Lord Iris. He’ll chill your blood.
But what the change in locale ultimately means, though, is that there is a whole new court of characters for William and his new bride (to say nothing of Sam and Max ) to deal with, as well as older ones that have returned. And, really, character is the heart and soul of these novels, and where the novel shines. It’s the interactions, the passions, the desires and the motivations of the characters, how they grow, change, wither and are recast, that really drives this novel, as it does the first. These novels are not devoted to the specifics and the love of high action and adventure so much as how sharp events change the characters, develop and make them grow.
In terms of that character development, the novel does have what feels like keystone passages for a number of major characters. It feels that Catherine in particular (but not just Catherine) comes to major, life-altering decision points that change their character arcs, permanently. I look forward to where these decisions might lead the characters later in the series. None of these changes are taken lightly, and the characters are reluctant, conflicted and unsure of themselves, with a hint of bravery and strength. In other words, just like real people handle major changes.
The Split Worlds is an amazing universe that has the issue of being a tad too complex, sometimes, and I would like more backup information to help keep the complicated (and increasingly complicated universe) of the Split Worlds universe straight. I might want to read All is Fair (the third and final novel of the trilogy) first, but I would love to see a FATE or Dramasystem game adaptation of the Split Worlds Universe, with some family trees.
The audiobook narration is wonderful, though. Not only is the author intimately familiar with her own work, she is a practiced and skilled narrator whose talent shines through. So, too does her passion and enthusiasm. Were I ever to get a novel published, I would love to have Newman narrate the audiobook version of it. In the meantime, however, if “Downtown Abbey meets Faerie” sounds like your cup of tea and slice of cake, I heartily recommend you start with Between Two Thorns, and get to know the work of Emma Newman.