Spoilers for the first two books are very possible.
Here I am again, for the third time, wondering how to review a book in Emma Newman’s ‘Split Worlds’ series. Obviously these books do something for me, I keep reading, nay, devouring them. I am not sure there is a series that once I get an entry in my hands I can read faster. And yet when done I always find myself in the same position; I know I enjoyed the journey but have a huge list of things to pick apart. Is this fair? Am I being too critical? Why do I keep reading a series that I consistently rate with three stars?
And the more I think on it I have come to a simple conclusion. I keep reading the series because the author does many of the “big things” right (characters and the unique world specifically), and my quibbles are mostly with the nagging little details.
Nagging little details. The story so far has followed Cathy as she fights against the patriarchal hell that is the Nether, an in-between land that the Fae use as a little political playground. And that is cool, and her fight makes up the bulk of the book and is interesting and I find myself cheering and etc. But I still can’t figure out what the hell it is about the Nineteenth century that this whole magical society decided to adopt. Why does Cathy need to fight this fight in the first place in a magical society that seems to lack none of the necessities? Cathy’s fight for equality for all the poor repressed citizens of the Nether is admirable and enjoyable, but by the end of the book I found many of the steps she took to be too easy. I am not sure I ever doubted her abilities, never felt any pressure for her. Worse, many, though by no means all, of those she rescues seem like hostages in a video game, no mind of their own until she touches them and they suddenly become people. You know, with feelings and desires of their own?
Nagging little details. A secondary storyline had to do with Max, an arbiter charged with keeping a treaty that STILL hasn’t been explained, three books in. He is also followed around by a Disney sidekick, a gargoyle, who is supposed to be carrying his soul do to circumstances in the first book. Because of this Max is supposed to be emotionless. But I don’t know if I ever have been convinced that the grudges he holds verse the puppets of the nether is anything other than buried emotion. Worse, I want to kick that gargoyle. Goody goody thing that he is, he still is supposed to be nothing more than an animated block of stone with Max’s soul. When did he become a dog? Several times he is seen “sniffing,” and then finding stuff. Do concrete blocks with human souls gain the super power of smell?
Nagging little details. Sam makes up the third portion of the story so far, at first nothing more than a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. We watched his marriage fall apart, got a few cryptic messages about a connection to Iron, and saw him attempt and fail to rescue some prisoners of one of the Fae, a Lord Poppy (who is also Cathy’s Patroon, or puppet master, or whatever one wants to call him). But the simple matter is I have not cared about him one lick through the first two books; he is a mopey guy who hasn’t really added to the story. Well big changes are coming and suddenly he is a man of destiny. That is fine by itself, but there was a whole lot of narrative convenience once he learns a few things, and the speed of his transformation didn’t work for me. Your mileage may vary on that one.
And once again I find these things bugging me more than they should, because they are hidden in a very enjoyable story. More and more I am seeing the series as a soap opera. Book three wrapped up some plot lines that started in book one and opened a few more that will no doubt take a few more to resolve. Some of the nagging little problems I had after book one have been rectified (such as thinking Cathy was the first women in the Nether to think about her place in society, when in fact we have learned a lot of curses and other nefarious plots kept the forward thinkers apart and/or hidden). Some links from book one still have not been explained, such as what the sorcerers’ place in the world really is and why the Fae would ever agree to a treaty limiting their reach.
So going back to the questions at the beginning. I keep reading because I enjoy it, and recognize it for what it is. Slightly flawed, but so far worth the ride. Nice to see some resolution, though I was kind of hoping this was the last of a trilogy rather than the middle of what may be a never ending series. Newman has continued to keep me invested in the story, especially Cathy’s fight against the system she was born in and the political fighting between the Fae.