Emma Newman’s conclusion to her Split Worlds sequence is full of surprises as Cathy and Sam receive a shocking proposal from Bea, Lucy reveals her true purpose in Albion, the Gargoyle forces Max to confront his loyalties and Will finds new and deplorable ways to make me shout NO WILL NO. Inevitably, spoilers for previous instalments.
I was all set for a wild ride in this fifth instalment of the Split Worlds, and Emma Newman doesn’t fail to deliver. I was also curious to see how she tied up all her loose ends – the Split Worlds isn’t as convoluted as A Song of Ice and Fire, but there was a lot of work to be done to pull everything back together in a single volume.
We rejoin Cathy on Sam’s estate, in a juicy scene that has her meeting Bea, bane of Sorcerers, for the first time. This is probably one of my favourite moments in the book: Cathy may be awkward and impetuous, but Bea has the emotional intelligence of a hammer and the social skills to match.
“Ah. I understand. Will it help if I tell you that I have already killed one thousand three hundred and fifty two people in the pursuit of my goal? My brother was only the first.”
She also has a cunning plan: now the Sorcerers are out of the way, she’s going to unsplit the worlds – and she needs Sam’s help to do so.
In retrospect, this is the obvious climax for a series focused on the structural imbalances of the Split Worlds – but it still took me by delighted surprise. How better to upset the apple cart? Cathy and Sam have – entirely wise – reservations, but Cathy can’t resist a chance to put an end to the misery of the Nether once and for all – even at the cost of once again unleashing the Fae on the mundane world. As a sweetener, Bea trains her in Bea’s personal brand of hybrid sorcery, giving Cathy the power to protect herself from Will and Lord Iris. Emancipation at last. When Max finally realises just how psychotically ruthless Rupert is, he too is roped in to support their wild plan.
Meanwhile, life in the Nether remains a roiling pot of family politics that rapidly come to the boil: Cathy’s father commits suicide rather than submit to Iris blackmail; her sister-in-law Lucy seeks a way to impress Lord Poppy enough to free the American Papavers from the Albion Patroon; and her brother Tom’s loyalties are put to the test. Will is left reeling from blow after blow, as Lord Iris discovers Sophia’s existence, Will finally realises what Lord Iris really wants from his pets, and Tom turns against him. Perhaps Will too can reach his potential?
“Forgive me, Father, but I thought that being a man was all about protecting and fighting for those we love”
No such luck. Will spends much of the book going from bad to worse, each faltering step towards decency quickly followed by three hops back. My NO WILL NO reflex got its usual full work-out; he is the epitome of the man who simply can’t see how much damage he does by instinct. However, Newman had surprises in store for me here too (which I won’t spoil): suffice to say there’s some dramatic developments for Will that I didn’t see coming in a month of Sundays.
I’m impressed by how many loose threads Emma Newman ties up (even the Rosas put in an appearance before the end), but I enjoyed the experience of reading All Good Things rather less than A Little Knowledge (probably my favourite of the series). While I appreciated the plot developments (and resolutions), I frequently found the writing perfunctory, as if packing so much in left little room for characters or prose to breathe. I particularly struggled with the force-growing of Lucy and Tom Papaver from minor to major supporting roles; an awful lot of context was shoe-horned in very quickly to make sense of Lucy’s motivation and actions at the end (although I adored Cousin Edwin), and Tom’s change of heart was difficult to reconcile with his behaviour for the past four books.
Nonetheless, this is a triumphant conclusion in terms of exploring and confronting its themes. While it took me a while to warm up to the Split Worlds (it was book 2 before I was fully on board), I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the rollercoaster to the finish.