The series of books that is 'The Split Worlds' runs five volumes long, so 'All is Fair', the third book, which I reviewed last month, marks the halfway point and, sure enough, it felt like a pivot. It felt like the first two books were all about putting key characters into place, messing with them a great deal in the process, and the middle volume was about allowing them to find some control at last over their own destinies so as to begin to prompt change. Surely the final two books are going to be about how that change manifests. Well, not quite.
Looking back after reading this fourth volume, it feels like 'All is Fair' was the 'A New Hope' of the series, while 'A Little Knowledge' is 'The Empire Strikes Back'. Sure, those scrappy rebels scored a huge victory but, after it, they struggled to merely survive. That's what happens here and it makes me wonder just how much will have to be crammed into book five to wrap everything up to our collective satisfaction. If the point is that 200 years of advances in society can't just happen overnight, then what does Emma Newman really have in store for us with her final book?
For instance, Cathy is now the Duchess of Londinium, the wife of the most important man in the city, but that doesn't mean she can do whatever she wants and that victory she scored at the end of the third volume merely served to put her on the radar of people above her husband who are, to say the least, far from happy with what she's been getting up to: people like his family and his patron. Will's job in this book, whether he likes it or not, is to rein in his wife and that's really not conducive to more change.
Similarly, Sam is now Lord Iron, head of a vast multi-national conglomerate, thus rich and powerful beyond his wildest dreams. He's therefore now able to order the solutions that he feels are needed to solve the environmental and social problems that his late wife gave her life to uncover. Easy, right? Do this! Do that! Do the other until all is well! Well, he's merely one person on the Elemental Council and he is stunned and rather embarrassed to discover that the rest of them don't seem to have a clue about any of this fae business. They're adrift from their own reality in ways that he and we struggle to fathom. We know why Lord Iron has importance because we've seen it, in the interactions between Sam and Lord Poppy. Why do the rest have importance? The answer to that question is not to be found here.
It's Max who gains some welcome substance here, because he's trying to do the right thing even without any of the infrastructure he needs to do it. There is no chapter anymore and his sorcerer is dead. The reason, of course, that he's been less of a sympathetic character is because he gave up his soul when he took the job of arbiteror, to be more accurate, he gave it up to be placed inside the stone gargoyle that is now his constant companion. It's apparent that such continual proximity is bleeding some of it back into himself, so he regains an emotional bent to his character that fleshes him out wonderfully.
The back cover blurb plays up the importance of the relationship between Cathy and Will. While theirs was an arranged marriage that neither of them wanted, one of the biggest successes of the series is Newman's ability to explore this marriage from many angles. For many (and different) reasons, they're both trying to make it work and it often feels like they're going to get there, but the ever-interfering fae are still pulling their strings and that complicates matters. I wouldn't say that the blurb is fair to end on "until one of them takes a step that is simply too far" because that's far from the only important thing happening in this book, but it is still important.
Where we end up is that this is another transition book. The biggest change is the one I haven't highlighted, as it delves even deeper into spoilers than I have already. Needless to say, this is not a series that you should start wherever you feel like; you really do need to line up all five books and blitz through them in order. Also, I feel like I have less of an idea where we're going than I did at the end of the last book. The character I'm carefully not mentioning is relatively new, though her effects have been felt throughout the series, and her goals are still not crystal clear. Surely she'll be playing a major part in book five but I have no idea what that will be.
Where we're going seems to be teamwork. Each of our primary characters may have a particular goal in mind: Cathy to bring the Nether out of the 18th century and into the 20th; Sam to stop the evil that his corporation is doing across the world; Max to police the boundary between our world and that of the fae-touched, even if it's on his own. What this book hints at is that they're not going to be able to do these things on their own. There's a bigger picture which encompasses all of them and maybe teaming up (and not just between these three) is the way in which that bigger picture can be changed and all the little ones along with it.
Well, maybe. Who knows? I felt that I had a grasp on the series after finishing 'All is Fair' but I'm back up in the clouds after this one. It's a good book, one that I devoured in a single sitting again, which meant a second book in a row for which I forgot to take notes, but it's very much part of a series and I'm nowhere as to what place it's going to hold once the series is done. Fortunately I only have one month to go. In November, I'll finish up with 'All Good Things' and, because I have it on my shelf already, I know that it's not a thousand page epic. It's of a similar size to the first four books in the series and I have precisely no idea how Newman is going to be able to wrap up everything within that sort of page count. Watch this space! ~~ Hal C F Astell
For more books in this series click here