All Is Fair by Emma Newman – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the third and final novel in the Split Worlds trilogy.
“Another great read set in the Split Worlds which provides closure to many of the subplots that have run through the trilogy, and is as enjoyable a read as the previous two novels.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
And so we come to it. For the foreseeable future, All Is Fair is the final book in the Split Worlds trilogy. The first two books in the trilogy, Between Two Thorns and Any Other Name have both been quite wonderful books that provided me with a yet another genre to explore, that of the regency fantasy, an urban fantasy world that deals with Fae and Faeries rather than vampires and warlocks and werewolves etc. Emma Newman’s writing has been quite perfect throughout the series and she has truly created a world that you can lose yourself in here. Political struggles, outgrowing social restrictions, standing up for what you believe in, sword-fights and more can be found in these books, presenting something for everyone. Sadly, neither the author nor the publisher appear to have any plans for further books, and to be clear, I would love to get more books in the series, since I think there are still plenty of things left unresolved.
What the novel is about is that everything that has been building up in the previous two novels, such as the growing comfortability in William and Cathy’s relationship, Cathy’s drive for independence from her family and husband, William’s struggle to succeed politically on the behalf of his Patroon, Max’s investigation into the death of his entire Arbiter Chapter, and Sam’s own struggle to deal with everything that has happened to him of late with regards being drawn into the machinations of the Fae and the Elemental Court. The story has become quite complex thus far and in All Is Fair, every single of these subplots come to a head.
In the Split Worlds, there are no easy solutions to problems, whether they are simple or complex problems. At every turn the Fae are making their presence felt, and at every turn the Elemental Court itself is interfering to protect the mundane world from the effects of the Fae-touched. Cathy and Sam and William and Max are all characters that I grew to love as friends and confidantes even over the course of this series. Their struggles to find their independent identities in their complex worlds are concepts that spoke to me on a personal level and in the new novel Emma does well in giving each character to come to a resolution with their struggles, whether it is something that they expected or otherwise. And that’s the fun of the whole thing really. Because there are so many twists throughout, and they keep things interesting. They keep the reader invested in these characters.
That’s what matters most right? I think it is certainly one of the biggest factors, especially when the novel in question is a finale novel like All Is Fair is.
Most of all, I enjoyed how Cathy and William’s romance played itself out. Their relationship was quite rocky from the get go, being an arranged marriage at the orders of their Patroons, and given Cathy’s independent-mindedness, it was all even more complicated. Because William is a product of his society, his world, and he has to learn to come to terms with his (some might say) scandalous wife. And as I remarked in my review of Any Other Name, Cathy didn’t exactly make things easy for him. She opposed him at every turn and didn’t make an effort to work with him. But that changes significantly in the new novel and the two of them really begin to trust each other, to confide in each other. Which is great, you know. It is a progressive relationship that they have and watching it unfold as it does is indeed one of the highlights of the entire novel.
One of the things that bothered me though was that Emma was juggling far too many things in the novel. Centrally, the novel is about William’s family cementing its political power and Cathy exposing all the wrong-doing at the Agency, which has been conning the entire society of the Fae-touched for centuries. And in the midst of it all we have the various subplots as I mentioned above. In the final third of the novel, things got pretty hectic on that front and the pace was thrown off almost completely. I’ll admit that I was even confused at a point. With so many things to resolve, Emma inevitably had to focus on a few things for the climax, and it meant that while we got some emotional closure for many of the characters involved, we didn’t exactly get a narrative closure. At the end of the novel, the story is still wide open and I think that there is enough material here for at least another book in the series, something that I would dearly love to see.
Also, Sam’s relationship with Lord Iron felt rather anticlimactic even. It started off really interesting at the end of Any Other Name and the start of All Is Fair, but by the end of this novel, it was… weird. Honestly, I think that almost the entirety of the subplot could have been cut out to make room for the kind of narrative closure I mentioned above, and we wouldn’t really have noticed any difference in Sam’s story. I loved the way that Emma handled it, with the subplot’s own twists and turns, but it just didn’t work in the context of the larger novel. It was just so… incidental to the whole thing, and I’m really not sure how else to put that forward.
Still, what matters in the end is that All Is Fair is a fun and enjoyable romp from start to finish. Through Cathy’s desire to change the Fae-touched society, we see some real changes in the world, and that was gratifying. A progressive world with honest-to-god changes that really do have an impact? Not something that you see all that often.
In the Split Worlds novels, I’ve found some of the best fantasy that I’ve read to date. I’m really thrilled that Angry Robot gave Emma a chance to bring this series to the audience in the way that they did, and that Emma wrote it, to begin with. While All Is Fair is not exactly the kind of “final” novel I wanted, it still is a pretty good one, and I would recommend it for sure.