All Good Things by Emma Newman
Publisher - Diversion Books
Price - £12.99 paperback
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.
Emma Newman has rightly applauded for her SF novels Planetfall and After Atlas (review of which is a coming) but All Good Things is the final part to her Split Worlds series. This sequence of five books is now firmly one of my favourite fantasy series and it's great to see the novels end with a strong and heartfelt conclusion.
But oh furry reviewer what is The Split Worlds sequence I hear you cry? The story began in Between Two Thorns and we meet Cathy Papaver living life in modern Manchester but this is swiftly disrupted by her brother kidnapping her to take her back to the magical parallel world of the Nether to be married against her will into one of the other ruling families. The Nether is a land that looks like Victorian England but with magical twists of spells, charms and most importantly of all a patriarchal system that firmly placed men at the top of everything and sees women as property to look after households and create children. Equality is a foreign concept as is consent, feminism and resistance. In a land of magic a woman can be easily silenced if she's a problem.
This use of fantasy to explore sexism is a running theme of the books. Cathy initially just wants to run away but finding out more about the world and how it's run with sinister agencies and Fae Lords who control all ruling families; Cathy becomes a secret campaigner and working to change the system from the inside to ultimately an active campaigner for its destruction. Mirroring her journey is Will Iris who initially seems keen to help Cathy and keen for her hand in marriage but as the books progressed it becomes clear his loyalty to family and power means he will use any means necessary to get what he wants. In the previous book Cathy found she had been influenced by magic to find Will attractive for marriage without her consent.
We find in All Good Things Cathy hiding away from The Nether once again and contemplating how Will tricked her and raped her. Consent is a running theme in these novels and it's tempting based on the initial premise to think this is a twee secondary world fantasy but it's absolutely not. It's a series that has created a gilded hell and it's examination of how a patriarchal society shapes people not simply how women should be treated but how it conditions men to act too. Cathy and her friends discover an opportunity to finally break Nether Society but at the cost of destroying the entire realm and freeing dangerous powers. What I love is that Cathy is not a Chosen One she is anxious, human and at her heart ready to help others. As the reader you spend a lot of the time hoping she will survive as well as debating if she will do the right thing.
The characters in the story continue to be complex and we have interesting contrasts. Will who justifies all his bad behaviour on his desire to protect his family and in particular his illegitimate sister gets an opportunity for ultimate power - can he finally turn a corner? At the same time Tom Papaver the brother who originally kidnapped Cathy gets an opportunity to either restore his family fortune or aid his sister. How these two men shaped by this society react reminds us that while we can understand why certain behaviours are preferred they all have a choice as to whether to continue or break the cycle. Cathy meanwhile is contrasted with her American cousin Lucy who equally supports greater equality but is also drawn to the benefits of the Nether's magic. This novel asks what do you do when your Society is rotten - rebel or comply? Is it worth destroying something when innocents may be hurt?
Action flows from our world, The Nether and Exilium home to the Fae themselves who also have their motives for conspiring against Will and Cathy. Stakes are high and all main characters and families play a role. It's never clear until the very end how things will pan out and who will survive. All you can hope after five books.
Ultimately this is a fitting end to one of my favourite series that is written beautifully but with a fury at the injustice of our world and a passion for changing it. It's never felt more apt to see a book questioning a world to say is this all we can be and can nothing be changed. If you want intelligent fantasy this is totally up your street!