Diversion Publishing, 2 August 2016
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.
The first volume of Emma Newman's Split Worlds series gets the series off to a flying start.
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The twist is, Cathy doesn't just come from some traditionally minded family - they are residents of the Nether, a weird parallel world whose inhabitants seem to think they're living in the pages of Jane Austen (without the good bits). The Nether is supported or sustained by the Fae, supernatural beings who live in a third world, Exilium. The Fae act out their quarrels through the inhabitants of the Nether (the Fae-touched), but are themselves unable to leave Exilium because of the zealous Arbiters, spell-wielding policemen. Which brings me to the other main character, Max, the grim Arbiter. Max has a quest of his own - I can't say any more for fear of spoilers - which he must put aside when the Master of Ceremonies disappears. The Master is an important figure in Society - and Society seem to be the the most important part of life for the dim and snobby inhabitants of Aqua Sulis, the Nether version of Bath, so his loss is a disaster.
So, a strong setting, albeit one where the exact workings are kept tantalisingly vague. There are lots of allusions to how this world works and how it became like it is, but little detail.
And, in Catherine, a likeable central character in a horrible fix. The story is genuinely interesting and certainly keeps the pages turning, as a sense builds up of how ghastly life is for those who want to live in the real world rather than the Nether. I did have a slight problem remembering all the main characters and families, especially Cathy's siblings and those of William (won't say who he is, spoilers!) There are a number of annoying, spiteful sisters and pompous brothers who make life difficult for the central characters and at times I forgot which was which. (I'm a hoot at family gatherings as you can imagine...)
This is the first volume in a sequence of five books. It's really a single continuous story rather than separate books), so there are a number of loose ends which become clear in later volumes - for example the story of Sam which doesn't seem to have much to do this the rest of the book does join up in time!
I wrote in 2013 that 'I believe and hope that Emma Newman will do great things with this series...' That hope was fully justified in later books, and indeed greater things are still being revealed.