All is Fair: I still don’t connect with these characters

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsAll is Fair by Emma Newman fantasy book reviewsAll is Fair by Emma Newman

Note: You really must read the first two books before coming to book three or you’ll be hopelessly lost. I’ll assume you’ve done that if you’re reading this review, so expect spoilers for those previous books.

All is Fair is the final novel in Emma Newman’s SPLIT WORLDS trilogy. I thought the first novel, Between Two Thorns was dull and confusing, and I wouldn’t have bothered with the sequel, Any Other Name, except that the audio version was already loaded onto my phone before I realized I didn’t like Between Two Thorns. So I listened to it anyway, and I thought that (contrary to my experience with most second books) it was a vast improvement over its predecessor. Still, I didn’t feel compelled to seek out book three until I began my recent quest to finish most of the series I’ve started. If it weren’t for that challenge to myself, I probably wouldn’t have read All is Fair.

Now that she’s married, Cathy has decided to stay in the Nether (a sort of 19th century Victorian society where the fae act as patrons to the human inhabitants) instead of trying once again to escape to Mundanis (our modern world which exists in parallel to the Nether). Cathy is now a duchess in the Nether and thinks she may have the power and prestige to try to make things better. Mainly she is concerned with social justice issues such as women’s rights and labor reform. She is looking for allies, but she has several obstacles she must overcome. One problem is that her husband Will killed the previous duke under false pretenses and he refuses to admit he was wrong. Another problem is that Cathy’s childhood governess, the woman who taught her about social justice, has disappeared. Oh, and she’s being blackmailed. Meanwhile Max the Arbiter and his gargoyle sidekick are getting closer to the truth as they investigate the Agency. Sam, whose wife was murdered in the previous book, is also looking for answers. Working together, the characters will finally figure out how the Agency, the fae lords, and the sorcerers are using the humans in their Society.

All is Fair is similar in style to book two, Any Other Name. It is more confident than the shaky first book, the writing style is pleasant, and there’s even a touch of humor. The story’s plot works nicely. The main problem, and this is likely to be a personal one (you may feel very differently), is that Newman’s writing style is character-driven rather than action-driven and, unfortunately for me, I just never connected with any of her characters. Not a single one, in fact. Cathy is sulky and selfish during the first two books, despite the fact that she insists she wants to help people. She gets slightly better as the series goes on, but I still never liked her. Max has no soul and is emotionless, which makes him kind of dull. Sam is passive and just not that interesting. I never cared about any of these people and since there wasn’t much else in the story to entertain me (such as a compelling mystery, exciting action, exquisite prose, or interesting ideas) I was bored for too much of the time. Besides, I never really bought into Newman’s split worlds.

For readers who enjoyed the first two books more than I did and who believed in the split worlds and cared about what happened to its denizens, I think All is Fair will be a nice finale. But if you didn’t care about these people before this point in the series, I don’t think All is Fair is going to change your mind.

Emma Newman, the author, narrates the audio versions of the SPLIT WORLDS trilogy. She has a beautiful voice with which she reads us the story rather than performing it. I thought she did a nice job. All is Fair is 13 hours long on audio.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. Well, this is a shame, because there are some interesting ideas here.

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