Edition 30: Book Review: A Little Knowledge by Emma Newman
Reviewed by Sophie Yorkston
When we finished All is Fair, we left Cathy as the new Duchess of Londinium, having rescued a house full of women and servants inconvenient to the political aspirations of the powerful Aquae Sulis ruling class. She is secure in the love and respect of her husband, Will Iris, believing that he will back her as she challenges the Victorian-era status quo.
The trouble with ruling classes is that they don’t often like to have their status mitigated, as it feels like oppression to their privilege. Will also has several secrets that he hopes Cathy never uncovers, and he is pushed by his Fae patron and their (male) subjects to control his wife. The answer to his problems, he believes, is in acquiescing to his patron’s requests and impregnating Cathy, a situation she is working hard to avoid.
Back in Munandus, Max, the arbiter (policeman preventing the Nether influencing Mundanus) is working to find the mysterious sorcerer who managed to wipe out all the guardians. His investigations drag in Sam, the unwilling Lord of Iron, who faces his own uphill battles with the assorted Lords and Ladies of the Elemental Council.
When I predicted that this series wasn’t quite done, I didn’t know that A little knowledge would layer the Split Worlds with more intrigue and further threads of a widespread conspiracy across all those worlds. And my reluctant hopes for peaceful change within Cathy’s home and Aquae Sulis were dashed—though I admit it makes a more compelling plot that they were.
The strength of this book is in its accurate depiction of how the worlds and systems of oppression work—no one just gives people what they ask for. These existing systems do their very best to maintain what they believe is the best way of life, and their dismantling is won only with suffering, heartbreak and hard work, sometimes even death. That Emma Newman weaves in sub-plot after sub-plot with seemingly unrelated aims demonstrates her understanding of multi-faceted societal problems.
It’s no coincidence that it mirrors the perfect storm of industrial relations and rising feminist movement of the 19th Century. Newman even manages to allude to the stirring of the separation of India from British rule, which occurred post-Queen Victoria’s reign, a nice historical nod.
For people picking up this book naively, without having read the rest of the series, it may be hard to follow some of the characters or what their roles are. The extensive world building of the previous books lends much of the context to some of the sub-plots that occur. People without a passing interest in the history of feminism or industrial relations in Britain may similarly lose some of the nuances of the book.
A little knowledge does not move at the same rapid gallop as some of the previous in the Split Worlds series, but it is not meant to. It has more shadowy intrigue, more back room plots. Also, some of the sympathetic views of other characters, particularly Will Iris, fall away, which has its strengths and detractions.
A little knowledge offers the reader a little bit of everything: gritty crime, historical intrigue, Fae and lost family, lost loves. I can strongly recommend it for fantasy fans, particularly those who love historical settings. But my strongest recommendation is start at the beginning with Between Two Thorns, and the free stories available on the Split Worlds website. These novels are suitable for young adult readers but have some infrequent adult themes.
Find out more about Emma Newman, creator of the Split Worlds and the Hugo-award winning Tea and Jeopardy podcast, at her website http://www.enewman.co.uk/.
A Little Knowledge (Emma Newman, Split Worlds Series #4)
Publisher: Diversion Publishing, 2016
Sophie is a scientist, aspiring writer, sci-fi and fantasy nerd. She is an editor with IFWG Publishing and has been Editor In Chief of SQ Mag and SQ Magazine, the previous incarnation. She also contributes book and film reviews. She lives in Melbourne, Australia.
You can find her in a few different places: @Smoph on Twitter, Sophie Yorkston – writer on Facebook, and at her blogs: Smoph’s Musings and Smoph Writes.