The Split Worlds of the Fae and the Mundane are connected by the silver-skied Nether and the portals that permit the Fae-touched and their watchdogs, the Arbiters, to cross between them. But the London Chapter of Arbiters is corrupt, and young runaway Cathy is being pulled back into the Nether for a glorious future she wants no part of. Granted three dangerous wishes by a Fae Lord, can she tear herself free of the Nether?
Welcome to a new SF/F Read-along! We’ll be venturing into the Split Worlds for the next four weeks (and all being well, continuing on through the series across the summer).
Emma Newman is one of those authors who crosses between the different spheres of my life – connected to meatspace friends and beloved by bookworm friends – so it’s about time I ventured into her world. Also, faeries. I have feelings about faeries. I set this bar very high, and I’m always keen to find a new author who can pole vault over it.
This week we’re being hosted by Lisa at Over the Effing Rainbow to get us started:
1. Let’s tackle the setup, first of all. The world of the Nether is caught between the Fae world and ours, and is also apparently too old-fashioned for Cathy, our escaping protagonist, to want to live in. What were your first impressions given her views on her home and family?
Honestly, I don’t feel like I have much beyond a bare impression yet. Cathy’s encounter with the Shopkeeper hints at a mysterious (if musty) world of privilege and charms, and her audience with Lord Poppy shows us we’re dealing with that most dangerous type of Fae – the arbitrary, self-absorbed, insanely powerful kind who can and will twist you into a pretzel for wearing a poor combination of patterned fabrics. But the rest of the world of the Nether? We’re so caught up in Cathy’s bias, it’s hard to tell. Old-fashioned, certainly. But perhaps it makes sense on its own terms. And just as Cathy finds our world incredibly exciting and alluring, I suspect the same would be true of Mundanes getting a glimpse of hers…
We learn a bit more about Cathy – she’s been given a glimpse of the mundane world by her rather daring governess, and she’s jumped right aboard the romantic train of women’s rights and independent lives. That’s… never going to be popular and seems unlikely to end well in the short term, at least. We’re only really seeing her at a disadvantage – on the back foot with the unexpected Lord Poppy and stalked by his irritating wish sprite – but she must be a smart, capable young woman to have escaped her family in the first place. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this side of her as she settles back into the Nether and plans her next steps.
…and tries to work out what to do with that last remaining wish.
2. There appears to be corruption and murder afoot among the Arbiters, a sort of supernatural police, and it doesn’t lead to good times for Max. What do you make of the magical soul surgery that the Arbiters undergo to do their jobs?
I’ll be honest, I found this storyline far more interesting and entertaining than Cathy’s, even jumping straight into the middle of it as we did. There’s enough supernatural policing stories out there for me to be fairly glad that the Split Worlds isn’t purely another foray into this subgenre, but I rather like Max at first glimpse and I am intrigued the more we find out about the ways the Arbiters work – how they’re made, how they communicate, the rather sharp demarcations in authority, and so on.
The soul surgery sounds horrific (you can’t help but recoil instinctively, a bit like the separation of daemons in Northern Lights / The Golden Compass), but it makes sense. Fae cast glamours that latch onto human emotions; if you don’t have any, they can’t work you over – but it sounds like an awfully unpleasant process. On the flip side, the Gargoyle is my favourite character so far, although I was highly entertained by the Sorcerer and his household.
3. Even more mysterious is Sam’s accidental involvement in the mystery. Any thoughts on the hapless mortal and what might become of him?
I have to assume Sam is in for a world of confusion. I was entertained by his history of poor choices for urinating whilst drunk, but we really have no clues yet as to how he will get drawn in. Will seeing an Arbiter collapse dead in front of him trigger his memories of what he saw at the museum? Will his presence at the collapse result in a visit from Max? We don’t really have a sense of who he is yet, so I’m just assuming he’ll be drawn in somehow and I hope it won’t end badly for him or his marriage. I’m liking that he is married, so I don’t automatically assume a romantic entanglement.
It’s all wide open at the end of week one: I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops into plot next week!
Fancy joining in? Here’s the schedule: