I was introduced to the writing and the work of Emma Newman by means of Between Two Thorns, an urban fantasy novel. I don’t normally read much urban fantasy as a general rule, but I was taken by the small stories Newman wrote in support of the novel and that world, and by the writer herself when she came all the way from the U.K. to attend a local convention here in Minneapolis. I was enchanted by her writing and her personality, and resolved to read all of her work henceforth.
That decision led me to read more of the Split Worlds, as the series has come to be called, so I read Any Other Name and All is Fair, the second and third books in the series. When Newman, in conjunction with her husband, started Tea and Jeopardy, what is now a Hugo award-winning podcast, I started consuming that as well. Other writing efforts took the author’s time, and I started to read those wonderful SF efforts as well.
But I never forgot the Split Worlds, and I hoped she would finish the series someday. I consumed A Little Knowledge, the fourth book in the series, almost as soon as it came out. Now, finally, after one more delay, the fifth and the final novel in the series that started her career has come out. The title, appropriately, is All Good Things (must come to an end).
The Split Worlds universe is an urban fantasy universe with a number of moving parts behind the scenes of our world. A group of servants — pets, really — of powerful exiled Fae lords mainly live in a timeless world next to our own called the Nether. The Nether is tightly bound to our own, and so the noble families devoted to the Fae lords often scheme with each other in our world as well as the Nether. There is also a class of sorcerers who seek to limit the excesses of these “Puppets” but they also have agendas and schemes of their own. And then there are the rapacious Elemental Lords, whose goals and desires appear to be something else entirely again, and far more rooted in power on Earth. The Split Worlds universe, in Between Two Thorns, kicked off when Cathy, scion of one of the noble families of Bath, sought to escape and grow beyond the limited confines that propriety and society and expectations wanted to impress upon her. She sought freedom, and so started to change not only her world, but the worlds of all those around her.
All of the characters from the beginning of the series, Catherine, and Max, and William, and Sam have changed and grown and gone through a lot since Between Two Thorns. Their circumstances having changed, often radically since that volume, their stories here come to a conclusion. Cathy’s efforts to bring social equality to women in the Nether, and autonomy and destiny for herself. Max, with his split soul gargoyle, trying to make his way as an Arbiter even as the society of the Nether schemes, sorcerers fall, Fae plot, and unseen forces move to change the entirety of the world. William Iris, who saw the Dukedom as the culmination of his dreams, bedeviled by his inability to truly understand his wife. And finally, there is Sam, who by accident fell into the Split Worlds universe in the very first novel, and now, as Lord Iron, has found his attempts to do good blocked, stymied and bedeviled. All of these characters are tested and show their mettle, even and especially when they do the wrong thing, the pigheaded thing, the very human thing. It is that humanity of her characters that Newman is strongest at, and always has been.
Above and beyond the strong character beats, the overarching plots and themes of the novel and the series come to fruition. What had started as a relatively straightforward urban fantasy quickly went into themes of patriarchy, of fairness, of modernity, of change, and much more. Themes such as environmental degradation, slavery, free will and much more are packed within the themes of the series and the author hits the beats in the final novel. It is not quite the ending that I imagined back at the beginning of the series, and perhaps not even the ending I imagined when I started reading this novel. There are a number of surprises, sharp ones, that occur on a plot and character level, but looking back on them, they are the right choices. Newman has evolved and grown as a writer since her first novel, and here it shows.
It’s hard to talk without spoiling the novel, plot wise, and I do think that the denouement of the conflicts raised since Between Two Thorns is well crafted. In some ways, the novels now remind me of two early Greg Bear novels, The Infinity Concerto and The Serpent Mage, which together by their end, like the Split Worlds series, lead to a permanent and interesting change in the world. There was no way that the series could end with a status quo ante, either in characters, or in her setup, and the author delivers on that
All Good Things must come to an end, and with this novel, so does the Split Worlds ‘verse. I am proud and pleased by the ending, and by the totality, the sum that the series achieves. And I look forward to the future work from one of my favorite authors and people in the SFF community.