Review | A Little Knowledge by Emma Newman
Where to start?
First off, I’m about to get spoilery. So, if you don’t like to be spoiled. I suggest you watch my video about Split Worlds #1-3 and then go read them. They’re that lovely kind of bubble gum fun you only really get in certain sub-genres of SFF. I liked them. I suspect you will as well.
In the fourth book of the series, we pick up with Cathy and Will as Duke and Duchess. They’ve started their rise to power, and Cathy has decided to use it to liberate the women of the Nether, like you do. But, it’s not that easy and, of course, she’s upsetting a lot of people and making many many enemies. She still doesn’t know what Will’s been doing behind her back or that their Patron is threatening to kill her if Will doesn’t get a bun in that oven.
I have two major problems with this book. (1) The plot is suffering some middle-book syndrome and doesn’t seem to be coming together, and (2) it’s been so long since the first three were out that getting back into the world and writing feels disjointed. Since there were rights, publishing, and reprint issues, I can’t really blame anyone for (2), so I’ll busy myself with the more substantial issue.
We’ll talk about the storylines one at a time, shall we?
Max and the Gargoyle
So, Max is slowly putting together an Arbiter’s office from scratch and trying to figure out what’s going on in the Nether. Since dead wizards keep showing up and he can’t go to the existing Arbiters, he’s left leading a hodgepodge crew of mortals and trying to keep the sorcerers’ disappearances under wraps.
It’s one of those situations where I know that this plot is going to wind up going somewhere, but for now, it feels stalled. There are a few things that Max uncovers regarding the Nether that are used to save the day, but that point is tangential to Max himself and, frankly, is feels like a convenient way to solve a problem.
That being said, we get to find out about some of Max’s past, which I find really exciting. The mystery is starting to come together, if only through magic internet use and the Gargoyle’s persistence, but it feels like one step closer to Max and his Gargoyle becoming one entity again.
Sam’s now Lord Iron and set on trying to do some good. He’s up against a possibly losing battle (Max helps him figure out the underlying problems here), and of course, he’s sad about Cathy seeming to be happy with Will.
Let’s all say it: BUT I’M A NICE GUY!
Lord Iron is all set up to get serious, but that won’t be until next book, so we’re waiting.
Cathy and Will
Oh, Will and Cathy. That’s a hot mess, intentionally so.
Cathy is starting to try and influence the court. Will is trying to knock her up. Neither is a good communicator.
Let’s not forget Will’s creepy tendencies. Those are still around.
It’s coming to a head, though. Only so long you can drug your wife into loving you before that backfires.
It’s a middle book and it feels like one. The action is a little laggy, and what action there is takes up time that we’re using because of the needed set up. I’m ready for book 5. This one, while enjoyable, was a bit lackluster for me. Too much organizing pieces of the puzzle, not enough putting them together.
Review: The Split Worlds Series (Books 1-3) by Emma Newman
Publication Date: 2013
The Split World Series is composed of three books: Between Two Thorns, Any Other Name, and All is Fair.
The Split World Series follows Cathy, a member of the fae-touched society who has escaped into Mundanus (the regular world). Cathy wants to leave the backwards misogynistic Nether behind her and to start her life as a regular human who will age and die like the rest of us. When her family captures her, she is forced back into the fae-touched world and married off to avoid scandal.
Cathy is resolved to leave again, but things are more complicated this time. Her marriage is bad enough, but she’s also caught the eye of Lord Poppy, the fae lord her family serves. With his increased scrutiny, she knows she’s headed no-where. She also has to deal with Max, an arbiter (the monitors who keep the fae-touched out of the mundane world), whose chapter has been destroyed after he uncovers corruption in the London chapter that has allowed the fae-touched to roam unchecked. Max is depending on Cathy to act as a spy and figure out exactly what is going on.
I’ve been waiting to start reading this for a while. I finally got my hands on a copy (That in itself was quite the debacle) and I’m not disappointed. This series has a great sense of fun. It’s fast-paced and witty.
I enjoyed that the characters in these novels grew. In particular, Cathy was grating and flat for the first book. She threw temper tantrums and was more preoccupied with what she had lost than with the situation at hand and dealing with the changes in her life. Frankly, she was kind of a whiny baby. By the end though, Cathy takes ownership of her situation and becomes an active player in changing her world.
Unfortunately, the character development wasn’t always up to par. For example, Newman initially builds up Cathy’s father as an abusive misogynist who puts social standing and expectations over the desires of his children. In the second book, Cathy’s father gets a bit more depth. We find out that he also went against his family wishes by fighting in World War II (did I mention the fae touched live for hundreds of years?). Cathy’s father says that the reason he doesn’t sympathize with her actions is because she was doing something selfish. This is fair enough; Cathy’s being pretty self-absorbed. But then, Newman turns around and continues to present Cathy’s father as the same abuser he was seen as previously without integrating the presented complexity into his later actions.
Another thing I was confused about was Max, the arbiter. Arbiters’ souls are separated from their bodies. They no longer feel emotion when processing crime. When Max’s chapter is destroyed, Max’s soul is bound to a gargoyle. The two proceed to try to solve the crime together. This was fine. I’ll bite.
However, Max consistently gets angry, sad, or otherwise emotional. The gargoyle often shows a great deal of logic and prioritizes his emotions last. Both of these seemed to go counter to the situation Newman initially describes. I liked them both, but it was far easier for me to just think of them as separate characters than as parts of a whole and singular one.
I did enjoy Cathy and Will’s relationship. It really grew as the two began to depend on one another. The trust and love wasn’t instant, a really gratifying thing when the situation is complex. I enjoyed that they had to learn to trust and respect one another and that it wasn’t easy.
Will was a good guy. We see this repeatedly. That’s why it’s really confusing when he does some sketchy stuff to keep Lord Iris, his family’s fae lord, happy. Will isn’t above using magic to manipulate those around him. I still really liked him, but some of this just really chafed. That Cathy remains fairly ignorant of what Will does is troubling, but I think it will be addressed in a fourth book (hopefully).
Overall, The Split Worlds Series is a fun, fast-paced read. I gave it a 4 rating.
You can watch me babble about it here: