All Is Fair, by Emma Newman

Series: The Split Worlds

Publisher: Angry Robot

Published: 24.9.13 (US/CAN/ebook), 3.10.13 (UK print)

Edition: eARC – big thanks to Angry Robot!

Where I got it: NetGalley

Synopsis, from Goodreads:

In love and war nothing is safe. 

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 should warn you now, before I really begin, that there may be some spoilers for the previous Split Worlds books in this review. Got that? Okay. Let’s proceed, shall we?

There are always high hopes for the final book in a trilogy, and speaking for myself, the hopes (and the eagerness!) I held for this particular final installment were through the roof. Emma Newman turned me on to the alt-Victorian approach to urban fantasy with Between Two Thorns, and by the time I finished Any Other Name I was truly hooked on it. (I’ve reviewed both books here, and you can find those reviews listed on the index page if you haven’t read them.) So when I realised the chance had come up to request an ARC of the third book, I jumped at it. (Despite having a bit of an ARC backlog, which tells you just how badly I wanted this one!)

And oh, how it did not disappoint me. 

All the twisty-turny plot mysteries that kept me asking questions see their resolutions here, and while there is still an unanswered question or two, this didn’t detract from that enjoyment of seeing it all wrapped up – after all, when you’re dealing with the Fae you have to expect that not everything will happen as you want it to. Newman was clever about that, and I doff my imaginary top hat to her for it. 

What really kept me glued to the page, however, was the escalation (and eventual resolution) of the plot that I had noted way back in the first book as being one that I’d hoped to see developing – the facts concerning the sorely outdated views on women in Society. Newman’s Victorianesque approach to her worldbuilding isn’t just there for the pretty manners, after all. Beneath that surface it all gets pretty dark, as Cathy’s earlier treatment at her father’s hands can attest, and that darkness is certainly not shied away from here. We discover what really happens to those people that Nether society deems ‘unacceptable’, and among other things, this leads Cathy to push harder than ever to see things change. Where she had wanted nothing more than to run away from it all at the beginning, now she’s determined to change things from within – come hell or high water. She really gives it everything she has now, and it’s a development that had me cheering her on throughout.

Will, too, sees a great deal of his outlook and his feelings change regarding the situation he’s now in. Claiming a Dukedom gives him power to either keep everything the same or change it, and this gives him quite the moral quandary – we know that Will isn’t just another mindless, straight-laced product of Society, even if it’s difficult for him, at first, to really shake off the ways of thinking and behaving that he’s been raised to believe are right. His relationship with Cathy is put under more strain than ever as a result of his struggle, and I found myself hoping for the best for him, too…

And then there’s Sam, and Max. 

Sam’s involvement with Lord Iron and the Elemental Court provides us with the other side of the themes explored in Nether society – just as the Nether cities are reflections of the Mundane originals, a lot of the issues with society that plague it have their roots here. Not the Victorian-era views, so much as the much broader ‘ignore it and it’ll go away’ attitude that is causing so very much trouble right here in our world. Sam ends up in a position to do a great deal about it from an environmental angle, if he can just break down those attitudes that are opposing him. It’s all about how he chooses to tackle them, just as with Cathy and her Suffragette movement in the Nether. 

All of these things are, in the broader strokes at least, issues that we’ve been facing throughout history, and the fact that Newman takes them and somehow makes them not only relevant to today, but exciting to read about – that says an amazing amount about her talent for this kind of thing. It’s not just a whodunit, but a ‘why should we do it, and how?’. And it has some pretty awesome magic thrown in, which is very nice icing on this fantastic cake.

Now, speaking of that whodunit…

Max, the Arbiter tasked with solving a murder that’s somehow linked to all of the goings-on in the Nether, has what I think might just be the hardest job of all – not because he isn’t capable, but because he’s working with his soul, and all of his emotions, detached. Naturally this raises the question of whether he’ll make the right decisions under such circumstances, even with his Gargoyle right there with him the whole way – but what really made this part of the plot work so well for me was that emotional aspect. Max, and not the Gargoyle, has been the one who seems carved from stone throughout this story arc. He doesn’t get upset. He doesn’t seem to relate to those around him when they get upset. He even seems confused about why some things, which would seem perfectly normal to us, trouble people. All of this is the result of an accident, and so Max never becomes unsympathetic as a character. In keeping with the escalation, however, there’s a scene late in the book where all of the sympathy I’ve been building for Max’s plight is wrung from me like water from a washcloth – and Newman wrings it hard. Gleefully, too, I’ll bet.

I will not say more, but I will say I was sniffling into whichever cup of tea I was on by that point. (I tore through most of this book in a day – there were many cups involved.)

Put as simply as I can manage, this book is wonderful, whether I’m judging it on its own merits or as the capstone to a fantastic trilogy. Everything is bigger, better, more spectacular – just as you’d expect from Book Three in any trilogy – but at the same time the character development that I’d hoped for is given, and it’s given incredibly well. Not everything ends on a perfect Happily Ever After note – not every secret comes to light – but then again, given that we’re dealing with human beings here and not one of us is perfect, you could argue that Newman still nails it. I certainly think so.

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