Thursday, 3 October 2013

All is Fair by Emma Newman

All is Fair by Emma Newman is the third novel in the Split Worlds series. It is the kind of series you should read in order, so let me direct you to my reviews of the first two books, Between Two Thorns and Any Other Name. I'm including the blurb with the warning that it contains spoilers for the earlier books. That said, this review is also going to contain minor spoilers for the previous books, so consider yourselves warned. I should also add that I assumed from the start that this was going to be a trilogy, but Newman leaves the ending open to future books, albeit while more or less tying up the biggest plot-lines of the series.

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 quite liked the first two books, but I think in All is Fair, Newman's writing has come into itself and I found it better written than the first two. Part of that, I suspect, comes from the characters also coming into their own in their various situations. After struggling to escape and being forced into an arranged marriage, Cathy sets her mind to trying to change the Society (of Fae-touched) from the inside. I quite enjoyed reading about Cathy actively working towards change (where she didn't get much of a chance in the previous book) taking charge of her situation.

I remain not a fan of Will, her husband. He's an interesting character in many ways, walking the line between being a good person and being part of the problem. His trajectory over the three books is kind of wobbly (not in a bad way!), with glimmers of potential obscured by a combination of manipulation (some of it magical and not his fault) and poor decisions (his fault). Although he has redeemable qualities and more of those are evident in All is Fair, I still thought he was a bit of a twat and took pleasure from certain instances of discomfort and impotent outrage he endured. Hehe.

The other two main story lines took slightly unexpected turns. Max, the Arbiter, continues trying to find out who killed all his fellow Arbiters and the sorcerers. The answer was not entirely what I was expecting, although it fits in beautifully with the themes of the other plot lines. When I finished, I wanted to read more about all the main characters, but I was surprised at how much I ended up wanting to keep reading about Max and the gargoyle, since I'd found his plot the least exciting in the earlier books. We also meet one of the other sorcerers and he is definitely a character I want to see more of.

Finally there's Sam, whose metaphorical rags-to-riches story is the most extreme and kind of awesomest. I don't think I can properly comment without spoilers, but I always liked Sam and after all the crap he goes through due, mostly, to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, I was glad to see something nice happening to him.

The Split Worlds series, as well as being fairly character-driven, explores strong themes of feminism and women's liberation, societal expectations and constraints, and breaking away from oppression and tradition. Although the earlier books build up to the ending of All is Fair, it's not until this latest book that the characters finally reach the full potential of who they are and what they're fighting for. It was a very satisfying conclusion, albeit one that I hope isn't final (not least because there are some minor threads which are not conclusively dealt with).

I strongly recommend the Split Worlds series to fantasy fans, particularly to readers looking for fantasy in an urban (half contemporary, British) setting which doesn't fall into the usual classification of urban fantasy. Also with fairies (well, fae) and a society existing in parallel to the human world. I've enjoyed this series a lot and I hope Newman writes more books following on from All is Fair.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: October 2013, Angry Robot
Series: Yes. Split World book 3 (of 3 so far...)
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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