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.
One of my favourite books this year, if not my favourite so far was Emma Newman’s Between Two Thorns. It’s no great secret that I think Emma is fabulous and that I love her Split Worlds, so it should come as no surprise that I loved Any Other Name. What I hadn’t expected was the direction the book took and the twists Newman added to the story. Discussing the book will inevitably give spoilers for the first one, so be warned. If you want to remain unspoiled clicking away now would be advisable.
Plot-wise there are three strands, just as in Between Two Thorns, to wit a strand featuring Sam and his attempts to discover his wife’s employer’s secrets; one featuring Max and Gargoyle and their investigation into the murders at the Chapterhouse; and one featuring Cathy and Will on the way to the altar and their assignment from Will’s Patroon. Unlike last time they don’t seem to interact as much, but some of the scenes where they do intersect are climactic and very cool.
Like Between Two Thorns, this book starts off from Sam’s point of view. And within five pages I just wanted to shake him and yell “Sam! Have you learnt nothing!?”, because he made some really stupid decisions, well-intentioned, but rather naive. Despite this, I enjoyed Sam’s journey through this book. I love Sam; he’s our every-man character that feels the same sense of wonder at this new, magical world he’s landed it and he went to interesting places, both physically and emotionally. He also crossed streams quite a bit with Max and Gargoyle’s story. Gargoyle still stole every scene he was in, that great hulk of stone is my favourite character in the entire book. The banter between him and Max is fun, but what I find even more fascinating is paying attention to Gargoyle’s reactions when he’s observing whatever Max is doing. They create a lot of pathos for Max and can be quite touching. Like in the last book, I felt that the investigation into the Chapterhouse murders is a little underplayed. I would have expected for it to feature more. Instead Max spends about as much time figuring out what is going on with Sam and the situation with Lord Iron. That isn’t to say that they didn’t discover a lot, because they truly did, but it was less overt than I’d expected.
For me the most enjoyable and most important story arc was Cathy and Will’s. It had such an Austen-esque feel, with lots of mutual misunderstandings, well-meaning interference and even a (sort-of) villain ready to make off with the groom. In the last book I was all for a romance between Cathy and Sam, but now I’m shipping Will and Cathy all the way. I wanted them to fall in love so much and I still have my hopes up. It’s hard because I get Cathy’s anger at being forced to comply with a marriage she doesn’t desire and her general disgust at the state of Nether Society, because inequality much? But on the other hand, Will is so lovely and he really tries to win Cathy over. In fact, I suspect he’s genuinely falling for her. But Cathy and Will’s arc is about far more than will they/won’t they fall in love, it’s also has some interesting politicking and plotting going on. I loved the Alba Rosa’s addition in the form of Amelia and her brother Cornelius. They make for a confusing factor in the narrative, since they seem innocent and victims of circumstance, but on the other hand they’re scheming to regain their position in society. In short, there is intrigue galore.
To return to Cathy’s desire to break free from the Nether, to be an independent, self-reliant woman in the Mundane and to further women’s rights there, I love that during the book she has her eyes opened to the fact that perhaps the ladies of the Nether need her to fight for their equality even more than women in the Mundane. The realisation that she has to let go of her dream of the Mundane and remain in the Nether slowly creeps up on her and it dawns on her that here is an even larger task waiting just for her. I love the fact that gender equality – something so relevant to current discussions in the SFF community – plays such a large part in Cathy’s motivations. However it did raise the question, are there no LGBT people in the Nether? No Fae? How about people (or Fae) of colour? Then again, the fact I assume the characters are straight and white, because Newman doesn’t state otherwise, perhaps says more about me than about the book. Still, in one so begeistered by the battle for equality, Cathy’s sole focus on gender seems a bit too narrow. Update: Mulling over my review last night, I realised there are LGBT people in the Nether, as evidenced in one of the Split Worlds short stories, we just haven’t encounter any in the books so far.
Despite the points raised above, I think I loved Any Other Name even more than Between Two Thorns, if that’s possible. The book just made me happy and while that is a completely emotional response and impossible to underpin with any arguments, it’s what makes me overlook whatever flaws there might have been. Any Other Name was engaging, funny, romantic, and imaginative and placed Emma Newman solidly on my must-read list of writers. I can’t wait for the conclusion to this story in October, when All is Fair is released. In the meantime, I think I’ll go and reread some of the short stories set in the Split Worlds.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.