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Book Review: The Split Worlds series by Emma Newman

The Split Worlds Novels
By Emma Newman

I have just finished the third of the Split Worlds Novels All Is Fair, and have enough thoughts about the books to write something here about them.

I picked up the first in the series Between Two Thorns in April this year (according to my reading log), as firstly the cover really attracted me – so much more interesting than the usual fantasy cover of either a hooded man, or a lady in a flowy-period-style dress.  I liked that it was essentially monochrome, but with the two splashes of colour on either side, which represented the major families in the book.  The artist is Sarah J Coleman, and she's done a lot of cover art-work, which is generally quite striking.

Between Two Thorns

The premise of the book also intrigued me – from the blurb on Angry Robot:
Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.
The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.
There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.
But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?

I found the idea of two parallel worlds very interesting, as you would have both the “here-and-now” and the “there-and-then” represented, without having to resort to some type of time-travel, which would look out of place in a regular fantasy series.  The three different strands of the story wind around each other quite nicely for the most part.  The three main characters (Max, Sam & Cathy) are all very different; of the three, I found Cathy to be the least likeable.  Max the Arbiter and his soul-gargoyle were the most interesting, and I wanted to find out more about him and his role in the society than the others.
I sympathised with Cathy’s desire to have her own life, and make her own decisions, but at times I felt that she was behaving like a spoilt child, (or a blinkered teenager), in that no one could possible ever have felt the way she did ever before.  I just wanted to shake her at times!
I enjoyed it enough to keep an eye out for the next one, which luckily for me, was out only three months later.

Any Other Name

From the blurb on Angry Robot again:
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.

Again the cover is eye-catching, the monochrome with the hints of colours representing the flowers of the main Fae houses/families.  And (from what I can gather), the bridges are also iconic silhouettes, different on each cover.
William and Cathy’s marriage, at first, is not a happy one, even though they both are trying to make it work.  Cathy is determined to go her own way, again thinking that she is the only person to have ever had her particular issues with their society, and the roles of women and servants in them.  Again, she annoyed me intensely at times with her attitude.  It was lovely that she got a verbal slap from one of the other ladies, and this opened her eyes to concept that she is not the sole-and-only person to feel this way.  There were also times when William’s attitude to Cathy and her (their relative) places in society annoyed me as well, so it’s not just the writing of Cathy.  There are some disturbing (to me) scenes of domestic abuse and not very veiled threats of violence towards Cathy – not by William for the most part, but they still made me go “hmm” when I was reading.
Sam’s misadventures in Faery, and his dealings with Max, and the mad Sorcerer were fun to read, and I was quite intrigued to find out more of what was happening with their parts of the mystery.  The Sorcerer, Ekstrand, was fun to read about, I liked that he was only sane (or capable of sensible, rational thought) on certain days of the week, the other days he was completely obsessed with whatever other random thought he was thinking about.
Again, some things that I wasn’t completely thrilled with reading about, but not enough to make me not want to read the next one when it came out.  Which it duly did, just this week gone.

All Is Fair

My book isn’t quite this bright a green, but the rest of the cover is exactly the same.  Again, striking with the two colour patches of flowers in the corners.
From Angry Robot again:
In love and war nothing is safe.
William Iris struggles to keep the throne of Londinium whilst hated by his own court and beset by outsiders, while Cathy discovers the legacy of her former governess. But those who dare to speak out about Society are always silenced. Sometimes for good.
While trying to avoid further torments from the mercurial fae, Sam finds himself getting tangled in the affairs of the Elemental Court. But an unexpected offer from the powerful and enigmatic Lord Iron turns out to be far more than Sam bargained for.
Max and the gargoyle are getting closer to uncovering who is behind the murder of the Bath Chapter and the corruption in London and Max finds the gargoyle’s controversial ideas harder to ignore. Can he stay true to his sworn duty without being destroyed by his own master, whose insanity threatens to unravel them all?

I was under the impression from somewhere that this was a trilogy, so I was getting towards the last 50 pages or so, and not seeing how she was going to wrap everything up satisfactorily.  So it was a relief to find out that Emma Newman had sold the first three books (which may be where I was confused), but if they sold well enough, she will write further novels in the Split Worlds.
Most of the storylines were wrapped up fairly neatly by the end, but a couple of over-arching ones are still loose.  Like why is Lord Iris so insistent that Cathy & William have a child within a year?  (side note: big cheers when Cathy stood up to Dame Iris about this!)  And who is truly behind (and why) the deaths of the various Chapter Houses?  And what other influence do the Elemental Court have on the Fae and the Mundanes?
Some specific parts of the third book I enjoyed:
Margritte (Maggie!) and Rupert the Sorcerer’s conversations, he was someone so completely unalike anyone she had ever met before, and she really had no idea how to deal with his lack of formality / deference to her position in Society.  Yet she needed him to carry out her plans for revenge on William and Cathy, so she had to adapt her behaviour and expectations, and I think she grew as a character as a consequence of this.
Cathy being able to begin instigating the change to the Society she so desperately wanted to, and the changes to her household staff’s attitude to her as a result.
Max having to make the choice of which of the two Sorcerers to save when they were both hell-bent on killing each other – and hoping that he’s made the right choice in the end.  Part of this stems from his emotions/conscience being separated from his physical body, so he applies pure logic to the problems he faces, and the poor gargoyle is the one who has to deal with the emotional fall-out.
William’s crisis of conscience over the deaths he has caused – does this make him a bad person or not?  I’m flip-flopping on this, they can be viewed as necessary, but they can also be viewed as the first in the slippery slope to irredeemable.  At this moment, I’m leaning towards the first point.

Final Thoughts
I’m overall pretty happy with this series of books, and will certainly get more if they are written.  There are a couple of things I did find unpleasant, mostly to do with the attitudes of the Fae-touched (both men and women) to women and their general place in Society, and also Cathy’s blinkered view of Society, in that no one else had ever felt the way she did about things.
One of the other fun things was the names of the Fae-touched families, they are all Latinised flower names, and are all beholden to one of the exiled Fae lords or ladies of the flower.  For example, William’s family name is Reticulata-Iris (beholden to Lord Iris), Catherine’s is Rhoeas-Papaver (Lord Poppy), one of the others is the Alba-Rosas (Lady Rose), and there’s a whole bunch (ha ha!) of other families of lesser status with different flower names.  And the Rosa’s have two branches, the Whites and the Reds, which did remind me of the two factions of the War of the Roses.
They are fun, and I would recommend at least checking out the first one.
Oh, and Emma Newman also wrote a short story every week for a year, which you can read for free if you sign up at the Split Worlds website http://www.splitworlds.com/ - I’ve been getting them since April, and am going to read them now I’ve finished the series of books.  It’ll be a nice way to find out some of the background and motivations of the characters.
Tags: book review, books, emma newman, reading, sarah j coleman, split worlds books
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