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Any Other Name by Emma Newman

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Cathy has been forced into an arranged marriage with William Iris – 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 twisted rules, none of them favourable to Society.

And in Mundanus, Sam has discovered something very peculiar about his wife’s employer – something that could herald disaster for everyone on both sides of the Split Worlds.
~~~~~
I read the first Split Worlds novel a few months back, and reviewed Between Two Thorns at the time; so when I saw Any Other Name in a Waterstones for the first time last week, I knew I had to pick it up, and so I did!

This review will, inevitably, contain SPOILERS for Between Two Thorns, and contains a SPOILER for a major element of Any Other Name. Also TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of rape.

Any Other Name is in some ways weaker, and other respects interestingly stronger, than its predecessor. The biggest weakness is in the plot; while Between Two Thorns saw Newman introduce a number of different plotlines, they remained closely intertwined by more than just just casual interconnection, whereas Any Other Name follows three different plots, which are linked by friendships or relationships between characters who therefore appear in more than one plotline, but all the same seem completely disconnected. It feels rather like a trio of novels condensed down into one, or like it’s setting up these strands to come together in a dramatic way in the next book; if so, some clearer indication of how they link up would have been rather useful. As it is, none comes to any kind of satisfactory resolution and some are only really getting their feet under them – especially Sam’s plotline – as the novel ends!

Character, though, is where Newman excels. Any Other Name boasts a huge cast, from outcast Rosas through the central characters to Max’s boss Ekstrand and his entourage into more general Society; and each and every character feels incredibly real, feels powerfully well fleshed out. They each have individuality, agency, emotions, reactions to events around them, societally-bred biases which they either embrace or work against, and a core personality that really stands out; Newman makes even brief appearances something much more solid purely by putting some spark into her characters. This is notable especially in two cases, those of Will and Cathy. The latter’s rebellion against her family and society is put to the test, both in kind and in its assumptions, as the novel continues and her latent feminism shifts its focus.

Any Other Name sees more interesting developments on Will’s part, though; he is both humanised and hardened as the novel goes on. Married to someone who refuses to accept society’s strictures, and forced into a new prominence by his family, Will is assailed on multiple sides… and the novel asks us to forgive him the unforgiveable: under orders from his Patron, Will uses magic to rape Cathy. That this is part of a pattern of him increasingly understanding her and her demands on him is notable, as is his guilt over it; but Newman’s presentation is still strange. It’s clearly a use of magic designed to attract Cathy to Will, and thus render the sex nonconsensual, and Will feels guilty about it, but the novel seems strangely quiet on how wrong and abominable this action is, and contrasts it with simply using force to rape one’s wife; partly that’s about Will’s socialisation, but I’m really hoping we see Cathy realise what happened and see her reactions to it in future books.

There’s also a problem of fridging here. Any Other Name sees not just one but three women killed off (or removed from the picture, at least) to motivate men around them; in a series that started with some fantastic challenges to patriarchal narratives and Victorian (gender) roles and values, this is deeply disappointing, and one wonders if Newman could have kickstarted these plot elements in other ways. Indeed, one rather feels she could have, even simply by making one of the attacks more abortive than it was.

In the end, Any Other Name is a good book, beset by problems of its own creation; however, memories of Between Two Thorns give me hope Newman will have addressed some of these in All Is Fair.


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