By JJ: A couple of centuries ago, the World was split to protect humans from the much-more-powerful Fae. Now the Fae reside in their land of magic, Exilium. They are separated from the mundane world by the Nether, a mirror-image version of Mundanus where society is frozen in that of Regency/Victorian times and populated by the people who chose to leave the real world and serve the Fae in exchange for near-immortality.
While the human denizens of the Nether are able to reproduce, those children must be raised in Mundanus in order to grow to maturity. This is often accomplished by living in homes which straddle the border between the Nether and the real world, keeping the children in the mundane section; since adults from the Nether will continue to age naturally whenever they enter Mundanus, they try to do so as seldom as possible.
Although Nether humans are able to visit the real world, a group of sorcerers known as Arbiters monitor the Fae to ensure that they do not violate the terms of the agreement, that they and their magic are kept away from the humans and Mundanus, and that innocent humans are no longer abducted from the real world to serve as playthings — or food — for the Fae.
Each of the Fae lords are designated by a flower, and the families who are their servants in the Nether take this as their surname to make their allegiance clear, including Rose, Lavender, Iris, and Rhoeas-Papaver. The latter family’s headstrong daughter, Catherine, has run away to the real world to escape an abusive father and the traditional Victorian restrictions and mores in which she has been raised — strictures which include marriages arranged by parents. In Mundanus, Catherine has made a life for herself as an independent adult, free of her family’s control.
But Catherine’s family is extremely unhappy about her escape, and they are determined to drag her back to a life she sees as stifling and strangling — and a husband chosen for her, without her consultation.
This, then, is the setting for the opening of the first novel in Emma Newman’s Split Worlds pentalogy. In the Nether, the author has created a world both charming and horrifying — one where the lovely fashions and entertainments mask the more sinister underlying society controlled by capricious Fae and tyrannical family patriarchs.
The biggest success of these books, I think, is the author’s choice to show almost all of the characters with complexity. Most of the people featured here are slowly revealed as neither all good or all bad, but as conflicted, contradictory people embodied by a mix of admirable and despicable characteristics, of virtues and weaknesses. Even though some of them behave quite badly, the reader is often able to feel empathy — or at least understanding — for them, due to recognition of the pressures and fears which motivate that behavior.
I especially appreciated the way that Newman has avoided slipping into the easy tropes of romance and idealised resolutions. The people in these books, and their relationships, are messy and realistic — and conflicts are handled in a believable way, rather than with pasted-on Happily-Ever-After Hollywood endings.
Due to Filer recommendations and my enjoyment of Planetfall and After Atlas, I had these books near the top of my To-Be-Read pile, anyway — and when the newly-published fifth and final novel in the series became available through NetGalley, the publisher was kind enough to give me the opportunity to read them all at once, in exchange for an honest review.
I make no secret of the fact that I much prefer Science Fiction over Fantasy. But I have to admit that I really enjoyed this series — not just for the detailed and believable worldbuilding, but for the way the author has deftly interwoven into the stories the current hard questions and challenges facing our own world regarding gender roles, race, domestic violence, and social status.
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Tsundokus, highly recommended.
Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman [Split Worlds #1]
Beautiful and nuanced as it is dangerous, the manners of Regency and Victorian England blend into a scintillating fusion of urban fantasy and court intrigue.
Between Mundanus, the world of humans, and Exilium, the world of the Fae, lies the Nether, a mirror-world where the social structure of 19th-century England is preserved by Fae-touched families who remain loyal to their ageless masters. Born into this world is Catherine Rhoeas-Papaver, who escapes it all to live a normal life in Mundanus, free from her parents and the strictures of Fae-touched society. But now she’s being dragged back to face an arranged marriage, along with all the high society trappings it entails.
Crossing paths with Cathy is Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds treaty with a dislocated soul who polices the boundaries between the worlds, keeping innocents safe from the Fae. After a spree of kidnappings and the murder of his fellow Arbiters, Max is forced to enlist Cathy’s help in unravelling a high-profile disappearance within the Nether. Getting involved in the machinations of the Fae, however, may prove fatal to all involved.
Any Other Name by Emma Newman [Split Worlds #2]
Cathy has been reluctantly married into the Iris family and moves to Londinium, the magical Nether reflection of London, setting her on a collision course with the restrictive, high-pressure social circles that demand propriety and obedience, things the vocal and free-spirited Cathy cannot abide. Will, meanwhile, is trying to find a compromise for his new bride, but whispers in his ear are urging him towards dark deeds…
Sam, determined to dive back into the world of Exilium to rescue innocents, crosses paths with Cathy and Max once again as Max and the gargoyle uncover more information about the mysterious Agency and the chain of events that wiped out the Bath Chapter. Sacrifices, terrible deals, and dreadful revelations mark this second installment of Emma Newman’s wondrous Split Worlds series.
All Is Fair by Emma Newman [Split Worlds #3]
Caught in the insidious designs of powerful puppet-masters and playing a life-or-death game for control, Cathy and her comrades face their greatest challenge yet: changing the balance of power in the Split Worlds.
Now at the heart of the Londinium Court, deceit and murder track Will’s steps as he assumes his new role as Duke. Faced with threats to his throne and his life, the consequences of his bloody actions are already coming back to haunt him…
Meanwhile, Cathy, wrestling with the constraints of the Agency and Dame Iris, comes to terms with her new status in Fae-touched society and seeks others who feel just as restricted by its outdated social rules. As Max works with Cathy to uncover the horrors that underpin Fae-touched society, he bears witness as the final blow is struck against the last Sorcerers in Albion…
Darkly imaginative, vividly detailed, and genre-defying in scope, ALL IS FAIR is at once a thrilling and intellectual journey into worlds beyond sight.
A Little Knowledge by Emma Newman [Split Worlds #4]
Cathy and Will are now the Duchess and Duke of Londinium, the biggest Fae-touched Nether city, but they have different ideas of what their authority offers. Pressured by his Fae patron, Lord Iris, Will struggles to maintain total control whilst knowing he must have a child with his difficult wife. Cathy wants to muscle the Court through two hundred years of social change and free it from its old-fashioned moral strictures. But Cathy learns just how dangerous it can be for a woman who dares to speak out…
Meanwhile, as Sam learns more about the Elemental Court it becomes clear that the Fae are not the only threat to humanity. Sam realises that he has to make enemies of the most powerful people on the planet, or risk becoming the antithesis of all he believes in.
Threatened by secret societies, hidden power networks and Fae machinations, can Sam and Cathy survive long enough to make the changes they want to see in the world?
All Good Things by Emma Newman [Split Worlds #5]
As the Iris family consolidates their hold on society within the secret world of the Nether, William Iris finds himself more powerful and yet more vulnerable than ever. His wife, Cathy, has left him, a fact that will destroy him if it becomes public. To keep his position – and survive – he needs to get her back, whatever the cost.
Cathy has finally escaped the Nether, but hates that she must rely so heavily on Sam’s protection. When the strange sorceress Beatrice offers her a chance to earn true freedom by joining the quest Sam has been bound to, Cathy agrees. But can she and Sam navigate Beatrice’s plans for the future without becoming two more of her victims?
And Beatrice, a self-taught and powerful killer, is not without her enemies. Rupert, the last sorcerer of Albion, is obsessed with finding and destroying her. He orders Max and his gargoyle to help him, pulling them away from protecting innocents. As the Arbiter and his partner face the ugly side of their responsibilities to Rupert, they begin to question where their loyalties should truly lie.
Amidst death, deceit, and the fight for freedom, friendships are tested, families are destroyed, and heroes are forged as the battle to control the Split Worlds rages to its climatic conclusion.
(Fair notice: all Amazon links are referrer URLs which benefit non-profit SFF fan website Worlds Without End)
Other works by Emma Newman:
- Brother’s Ruin [Industrial Magic #1, novella] (Tor.com Publishing, 2017)
The year is 1850 and Great Britain is flourishing, thanks to the Royal Society of the Esoteric Arts. When a new mage is discovered, Royal Society elites descend like buzzards to snatch up a new apprentice. Talented mages are bought from their families at a tremendous price, while weak mages are snapped up for a pittance. For a lower middle class family like the Gunns, the loss of a son can be disastrous, so when seemingly magical incidents begin cropping up at home, they fear for their Ben’s life and their own livelihoods.
But Benjamin Gunn isn’t a talented mage. His sister Charlotte is, and to prevent her brother from being imprisoned for false reporting she combines her powers with his to make him seem a better prospect.
When she discovers a nefarious plot by the sinister Doctor Ledbetter, Charlotte must use all her cunning and guile to protect her family, her secret and her city.
- Planetfall [Planetfall #1] (Roc / New American Library, 2015)
Renata Ghali believed in Lee Suh-Mi’s vision of a world far beyond Earth, calling to humanity. A planet promising to reveal the truth about our place in the cosmos, untainted by overpopulation, pollution, and war. Ren believed in that vision enough to give up everything to follow Suh-Mi into the unknown.
More than twenty-two years have passed since Ren and the rest of the faithful braved the starry abyss and established a colony at the base of an enigmatic alien structure where Suh-Mi has since resided, alone. All that time, Ren has worked hard as the colony’s 3-D printer engineer, creating the tools necessary for human survival in an alien environment, and harboring a devastating secret.
Ren continues to perpetuate the lie forming the foundation of the colony for the good of her fellow colonists, despite the personal cost. Then a stranger appears, far too young to have been part of the first planetfall, a man who bears a remarkable resemblance to Suh-Mi.
The truth Ren has concealed since planetfall can no longer be hidden. And its revelation might tear the colony apart…
- After Atlas [Planetfall #2] (Roc / New American Library, 2016)
Gov-corp detective Carlos Moreno was only a baby when Atlas left Earth to seek truth among the stars. But in that moment, the course of Carlos’s entire life changed. Atlas is what took his mother away; what made his father lose hope; what led Alejandro Casales, leader of the religious cult known as the Circle, to his door. And now, on the eve of the fortieth anniversary of Atlas’s departure, it’s got something to do why Casales was found dead in his hotel room – and why Carlos is the man in charge of the investigation.
To figure out who killed one of the most powerful men on Earth, Carlos is supposed to put aside his personal history. But the deeper he delves into the case, the more he realizes that escaping the past is not so easy. There’s more to Casales’s death than meets the eye, and something much more sinister to the legacy of Atlas than anyone realizes…
- “The Unkindest Cut”, novelette from Monstrous Little Voices edited by David Thomas Moore (Abaddon Books, 2016)
- “A Woman’s Place”, short story from Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets: An Anthology of Holmesian Tales Across Time and Space edited by David Thomas Moore (Abaddon Books, 2014)
- “Tea in the Secret Garden“, short story available online from Star Quake 2: SQ Mag’s Best of 2013 edited by Sophie Yorkston (IFWG Publishing Australia, 2013)
- 20 Years Later (Dystopia Press, 2011)
LONDON, 2012: It arrives, and with that the world is changed into an unending graveyard littered with the bones, wreckage, and memories of a dead past, gone forever.
LONDON, 2032: Twenty years later, out of the ashes, a new world begins to rise, a place ruled by both loyalty and fear, and where the quest to be the first to regain lost knowledge is an ongoing battle for power. A place where laws are made and enforced by roving gangs-the Bloomsbury Boys, the Gardners, the Red Lady’s Gang-who rule the streets and will do anything to protect their own.
THE FOUR: Zane, Titus, Erin, Eve. Living in this new world, they discover that they have abilities never before seen. And little do they know that as they search post-apocalyptic London for Titus’ kidnapped sister that they’ll uncover the secret of It, and bring about a reckoning with the forces that almost destroyed all of humanity.
- From Dark Places
- The Straw
- The Need to Create
- Someone to Watch Over Her
- The Perfect Escape
- The Tenth Lord
- Sunday Lunch
- The Art of Desire
- No Surprise
- Seeing Him Again
- The Victim
- The Letter
- The Unwoven Heart
- And Then There Were None
- Everything in its Place
- The Best Pie in the World
- The Handsome Dragon
- The Bell
- In the Bag
- Her Fall
- The Supporting Statement
- Getting Fixed
Emma Newman writes dark short stories and science fiction and urban fantasy novels. Between Two Thorns, the first book in Emma’s Split Worlds urban fantasy series, was shortlisted for the British Fantasy Awards for Best Novel and for Best Newcomer in 2014. “A Woman’s Place” won the 2015 British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story, and her science-fiction novel After Atlas, the second in her Planetfall series, is a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the Locus Award in 2017. Emma is a professional audiobook narrator and also co-writes and hosts the Hugo-nominated and Alfie-winning podcast Tea and Jeopardy which involves tea, cake, mild peril and singing chickens. Her hobbies include dressmaking and role-playing games.