RogerBW's Blog

All Good Things, Emma Newman 15 April 2024

2017 fantasy, fifth and last volume of its series. Things are finally getting moving.

Well, that's not quite fair. Cathy has been spending this entire series trying to get things moving and change Nether society, only for her supposed allies to drop out or talk her out of actually doing things. There's nothing left but direct action.

Yes, this portal fantasy with balls and dresses and magical jewellery also deals with the ethics of propaganda of the deed. That's what you get when you read Emma Newman.

"But…but don't you feel bad about what you've done? All those people—lots of them victims of the Sorcerers themselves—are dead because of you."

"It was not a decision I made lightly. But I have reconciled myself with my actions. To create change, to disrupt a system of control, one must carry out radical acts. One must be prepared to destroy so that something new can be created. Those in control will never give up the power afforded to them voluntarily. It must be taken. If that requires the deaths of a few to give freedom to the many—and survival of the many—then so be it. This is not a gentle act."

This is the good stuff. This is the sort of ethical question I want to see characters facing, and finding answers that work for them rather than someone else's orthodoxy. And these are the challenges to suit characters like that: not "can I", that's rarely in doubt, but "should I", and if so "how should I".

(Meanwhile there's a splendid come-down for one of the main antagonists: nsgre jerpxvat uvf yvsr gb gel gb borl uvf cngeba'f qrznaqf, ur qvfpbiref va snvyher naq ehva gung nyy gubfr qrznaqf jrera'g guvatf gb uryc fnvq cngeba, gurl jrer whfg vapernfvat jnlf bs cerffvat uvz vagb eroryyvba—orpnhfr gur cyrnfher bs pbafhzvat gur eroryyvba bhg bs uvf fbhy vf jung gung cngeba npghnyyl jnagrq nyy nybat.)

Good guys are flawed. Bad guys are just trying to get by. Nobody wears a label that commits them to being either. I like Newman's world-building (here and in the Atlas books), but the reason I keep coming back is for the people, and the eternal question: what does it mean to do right, to be a good person?

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