Emma Newman, The Split Worlds,
Myself: "I thought we said 'Never two reviews for the same author, except in the Collections'!"
Me: "Excuse Me? Are you telling Me off because I'm breaking rules? Furthermore rules of my own making?"
Myself: "But there are so many authors out there, all worth discovering!"
Me: "If I read this five books fantasy series in five days, it's probably for the good reason that I loved it. And we also said that this blog was only for books I loved."
Myself: "But you reviewed an Emma Newman series barely 6 months ago! Couldn't you have waited a bit at least?"
Me *blows a raspberry at Myself and keeps on with the review because that series is too bleeding good to not review it*
Cathy has a loving boyfriend, Josh, she is a student in Manchester and a science fiction fan. Nothing could be more mundane. But what Cathy never told Josh is that she comes from the Nether, a pocket universe in which those touched by the Fae live in a highly hierarchical and patriarchal society, and that she escaped. It all changes when Lord Poppy, the Fae who is the patron of her family, finds her and shatters the Charm that kept her hidden. Soon, her brother Tom shows up and forces her to come back to the Nether where she will be married against her will.
Usually, the speed at which I read a book is a sure sign of how much I love it. So I could just say that I read all five books in five days and you'd have the gist of it. But I can't resist to gush a bit.
The Split Worlds is action packed and there's always something happening: characters are litterally fleeing for their lives, trying to untangle themselves from a political scheme that could be their undoing, or simply trying to make sense of the mess they've been put into. The characters move from world to world - Mundanus, where people like you and me live in innocence, the Nether, populated by those subservient to the Faes, and Exilium, where the Faes live - and there's often in The Split Worlds hints of what you can also find in Charlie Stross' Merchant Princes series with the worlds hopping and the scheming. The pages flow by and it'll probably be midnight before you even realised and agonise about whether having a good night sleep or reading "just a few more pages". Newman's writing pretty much flows, even if it can be a bit awkward sometimes in Between Two Thorns, her debut, though those little bumps are very soon forgotten. And for a series which has had such diverse fortunes in publication, it is remarkably tight, all the way to a very satisfying ending.
But action for action's sake has never been my cup of tea and it can leave me completely cold if there isn't a character to care about. Happily, The Split Worlds series provide that aplenty.
The main character, Cathy, is an excellent one: she's clever, brave, rebellious. You end up being taken with her pretty quickly and you gasp and rage at what she has to live through and face up. But the secondary characters are also extremely well done and I think that's what gives so much depth to the story.
This gallery includes marginalised people, mercurial Faes, utterly despicable characters, ... Sam, a programmer whose marriage is breaking up, Max the Arbiter whose soul was ripped from him and weirdly ended up in a now walking and talking stone gargoyle, Lord Poppy who is unpredictable to say the least... The gallery of characters is incredibly full and almost each of them is many layered. There's one in particular I truly wanted to rip to shreds, until Newman, in a couple of sentences, made me feel sympathetic to them, until, all over again, I wanted to rip them to shreds again, while they remained perfectly cohesive.
Newman writes all her characters to be truly interesting, whether you like them or not, and that alone would make The Split Worlds series worth your time.
But the themes are also what engage the readers in this story. The main theme, pretty obvious from the start, is the fight against patriarchy. The Nether society condones arranged marriage, rape and wife beating, while women are taught to remain pretty and submissive. One could say it's Victoriana as it truly was for women, once you're past the glamour of the costumes. And anyone who remembers the "outrage" at the female-only screening of Wonder Woman will probably chuckle in delight at some point during A Little Knowledge.
But Cathy doesn't only have to face a patriarchal society, she also has to navigate safely among Faes, magical beings driven into exile from the Mundane world and who pass the time by manipulating their puppets who live in the Nether. Oppression comes in many forms in the Split Worlds and power always corrupts.
That is another strength of the series: it's not just action packed with interesting characters, it also has a powerful message about free will and freedom.
In Newman's scifi books both main characters are QUILTBAG and persons of colour. So my only regret is that, to paint the Nether society as homophobic and racist, this series that argues so eloquently for equality has just one character who reveals themselves to be QUILTBAG and only a couple of characters of colour.
I came late to The Split Worlds series as I started on it barely a few days before All Good Things was released. But it made a profound impression on me. I've raged, I've laughed, I confess I even shed a tear or two and I'm absolutely certain I will read it again with a lot of pleasure. I think it is worth every single penny you can spend on it and every single second you can spend reading it.
The writer's website.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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