19 August 2016

All is Fair

Image from http://fantasy-faction.com/
All is Fair
Emma Newman
Diversion Publishing, 2 August 2016
PB, 350pp
Source: Bought

This is an updated version of my review of the first publication of this book, posted on Amazon in 2013. I have revised it and am posting to the blog for the first time to celebrate the republication in 2016 and the publication of the fourth book in the series, A Little Knowledge.  

This is the third part of Newman's Split Worlds sequence, after Between Two Thorns and Any Other Name. Newman has a flair for world-building and has created a wonderful setting in which the ordinary world ('Mundanus') coexists with a 'Nether', a ghostly world where nobody ages, inhabited by a pack of immortal toffs and spongers, the "Fae-touched". They are maintained in some opulence by the mercurial Fae, which inhabit a third world, Exilium. This place is really their prison: under an ancient treaty they are forbidden form meddling with the 'innocents' of Mundanus, but allowed their way with the folk of the Nether. All this is overseen by a kind of supernatural police, the Arbiters.

Over the course of the three books, this system has begun to collapse. It still isn't clear at the end precisely why, but we do learn who has been killing off the Arbiters - and why those in London are so corrupt. It has also been challenged from within by our heroine, Cathy, who is a modern woman trapped in a Jane Austenesque world. Newman uses Cathy's position to dramatise, very starkly, the unequal position of women through most of history, and the urgency of change. She does this at the same time as telling a convincing and involving story, and portraying characters that one (well, I) really cared about. (Don't bother with Will, Cathy! He's not good enough for you!)

If by any chance you're reading this review and you haven't read the first two books, go and read them NOW. I'm about to inflict a few spoilers on you, and you've had fair warning.

Still here?

OK. In "All is Fair" we do learn some answers, and Cathy becomes again the active heroine she was through much of the first book, and who I missed in the second where she was rather firmly kept in her place. The different threads - Max, the Arbiter, Sam and his strange friend Lord Iron and the shenanigans in London Society - come together in a deftly woven plot which finally - finally! - brings what we might think of as the "goodies" into one faction. (But Will is among them. Boo!) There is also rather less of the irritating sorcerer, Ekstrand, whose place is taken by a rather different magician.

So there's lots to love in this and, as I said above, it left me wanting to know more: About Sophie. About what Lord Iris is really up to. About Iron's true significance, and that of the "Elemental Court" (remember right back at the start where Sam had a pin put in his leg and saw that as having been "contaminated"? We still don't know exactly what that means). And lastly, but most importantly, how Cathy and her reformers will address the knotty question of making social progress in a bitterly hierarchical system supported by the quixotic (at best, malignant at worst) Fae...

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