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REVIEW: Tangled Webs by Anne Bishop

Dear Ms. Bishop,

Tangled WebsTen years ago, I went through a reading dry spell. Nothing within the fantasy genre appealed to me. I’d grown tired of ignorant farmboys discovering it was their destiny to save the world. I had yet to discover George R.R. Martin. It was still a few years before the urban fantasy subgenre exploded. But I wanted something new. I wanted something fresh. And I was having the hardest time finding it. Then one day I was in the bookstore browsing the fantasy aisle and I stumbled across Daughter of the Blood.

I’ve read many of your books since then and I’ve liked some more than others, but the ones that worked for me best were those set in the Black Jewels universe. In retrospect, I can see the numerous flaws: Jaenelle is a Mary Sue, the plots tend to lose steam towards the end, the antagonists are E-V-I-L, and sometimes the worldbuilding just doesn’t make much sense. But I discovered those books at a time when I was ready to give up on the fantasy genre and because of that, I remain fond of them.

Reading Tangled Webs was like meeting up with an old friend. It’s a return to the Realms, where the magic-wielding Blood guard and protect the landen, or humans, amidst a shifting dance of power between women and men. What makes it different from previous books set in this world is that it takes place after the war, after the world has been saved and the balance of power between the sexes restored. As a result, it’s a quieter story and not as epic as the previous books but I like the change of pace. It can’t always be about saving the world. There are other stories worth telling too and sometimes I think the fantasy genre forgets that.

The previous books dealt with power imbalances between the sexes and what happens when the relationships between men and women become perverted and abused. This book moves beyond that and addresses the uneasy relationship between the Blood and the landen and the misconceptions that exist between them. Against this backdrop, Jaenelle Angelline (the most powerful witch to ever live) and her sister-in-law Marian decide to create a haunted house to entertain the local landen children. This brings its own share of complications in terms of logistics and ruffled tempers but it also provides the perfect cover for a landen’s revenge plot.

A popular landen mystery writer recently started a new series featuring a Blood protagonist. Unfortunately for him, he knows nothing about the Blood and gets all of the details wrong. Unfortunately for the Blood, he does not take criticism or rejection well. He too creates his own haunted house but invites the members of Jaenelle’s family to use them as inspiration and fodder for his next book. The only catch is he has no intention of letting any of them leave the house alive.

As I said earlier, this is a quieter story that details what happens after the war. But while I was glad to spend some time catching up with the characters, not much happens in the first 100 pages. They may have been entertaining and well-written pages, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was filler. I think even the most ardent fan will realize that. That said, I also believe new readers unfamiliar with the series will have an easier time familiarizing themselves with the world and story because of the slower beginning. Once the haunted house plot begins, however, I feel like we return to the type of pacing we expect from a Black Jewels book.

I liked the fact that Surreal featured a more prominent role. In previous books, the focus has always been on Jaenelle and the men in her life, which meant some of the more interesting characters like Surreal and Karla were pushed to the background. A former courtesan and assassin, Surreal is trying to regain her bearings after her first genuine relationship ended badly. It was nice to see Surreal get some of her edge back when she gets trapped in the mystery writer’s haunted house and works keep her companion Rainier and a group of landen children alive. She may not always be a nice person but Surreal is a product of the times before Jaenelle and her men saved the world, and those times were anything but nice.

Because of this, I would have liked to see her take even more of an active role. Once again, I felt like the story’s focus shifted to Jaenelle and her men towards the end. We already know how strong and powerful they are from previous books. Why couldn’t we have seen how strong we all know Surreal can be? She may not be as powerful as Jaenelle, Daemon, or Lucivar, but she was once a much sought after assassin. You don’t get that kind of reputation by waiting for someone to rescue you. And for that matter, why can’t she have a happy ending too? Jaenelle and her men did. Why not Surreal?

I did enjoy how Surreal and Rainier’s trip through the haunted house trap contained self-aware commentary on stories, mysteries in particular. The humor brought a smile to my face, helping make this a lighter read than previous books in the series. And I will always appreciate how Bishop can make even the most superpowered characters seem like those eccentric neighbors next door. B

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in hardcover or ebook format.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

22 Comments

  1. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 13:02:08

    Jia, I love the Black Jewels books. I found them a few years back and I was on a serious fantasy slump at the time, too. I haven’t read this one yet but it’s on my list.

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  2. Ann Bruce
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 13:32:34

    Is this a collection of novellas? I find I prefer Bishop’s collections more than full-length novels because the pacing is so much faster.

    But I will read this book because it’s been so long since BELLADONNA.

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  3. Darlynne
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 14:37:53

    I had no idea another book was out, thanks for the information and review. But Jaenelle a Mary Sue? I don’t see that at all.

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  4. Jia
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 14:57:26

    Is this a collection of novellas?

    No, it’s a full length novel. The only collection of novellas she’s put out that I know of is Dreams Made Flesh.

    But Jaenelle a Mary Sue?

    It depends on your definition of Mary Sue, I suppose. Jaenelle hits mine: she was dreamed into existence, she is the most powerful witch to ever live (her original jewel was darker than the black, which until her was considered the most powerful), all the important males in the series love her in one way or another, and everyone either wants to serve her or kill her.

    She’s not the most obvious Mary Sue because the books are never told from her point of view but from that of the people surrounding her. If the books were told from her point of view, I think it might be a little more obvious.

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  5. (Jān)
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 16:21:11

    Thanks for the review Jia. I too was eagerly looking forward to this one.

    Jaenelle is on the line for me as a Mary Sue for me for one main reason: It’s programmed into the males to adore and serve their witch and leader. Since it’s part of the world building, it’s not part of her character so much.

    But she’s so close. She is self-sacrificing, a martyr when she doesn’t need to be one. And her negatives, well, I have trouble coming up with any scenes where she does something for a bad reason. Her character flaws are all like what we come up with at interviews when they ask our negatives: “I work too hard at things”, “I care about people too much”. She never does what I would do and takes one of those black stones and oh, uses it in a fit of road rage. Assuming they have that with wagons.

    However, in the anthology I thought all the characters moved toward a rounder characterization. Bishop’s writing matured a lot. I’m looking forward to seeing if it’s done it still more.

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  6. Peggy P
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 17:32:52

    Wow, this is weird, just logged in after work tonight…got my laptop and a book I picked up on my lunch hour and planning to spend all night with a good read, out of the ice storm going right now here. Just kinda wandering through Borders and this paperback with a pretty cover jumped out at me and I’m in a reading slump anyway…so I bought it. It’s Sebastion by Anne Bishop. I’ve never heard of her, don’t read too much SF or fantasy but what a “pretty boy” cover! So I’m really glad to see this isn’t a waste of $8 and looking forward to a new(to me)author. Thanks for the review and now another backlist to check out!

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  7. Released! Bast, Bishop & Kittredge « Urban Fantasy Land
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 17:41:54

    [...] Dear Author,  [...]

  8. Jia
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 17:57:08

    Jan: I do think her writing’s matured a lot. For example, I don’t feel like this book lost steam towards the end in the same way the original trilogy did. I just wished Surreal had more of an active role in it, rather than being pushed to the back to showcase Daemon and Lucivar again.

    Peggy P: Bishop’s recent covers have been very nice. I know the original Black Jewels trilogy was recently reissued with brand new covers, which I think are prettier than the originals.

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  9. Caffey
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 20:32:38

    I have never read this author or the Black Jewel Trilogy but when I started getting into fantasy reads, hers have been recommeneded to me. I saw the trilogy was printed in one book and finally came out in 3 separate books as well as this new additon book. So I’m planning to get the individual books of the trilogy. I’ve been fastinated with all I’ve read about them. I think too these newer covers are much more fitting and beautiful as
    the stories sound.

    Thanks for always having info up on books I’m looking to find info on!

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  10. (Jān)
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 22:03:50

    Ooh I hadn’t seen the new covers! Pretty! I always hated those old covers. The omnibus version is my favorite.

    OMG, did you see the German covers?
    German book 3

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  11. Jia
    Mar 04, 2008 @ 22:14:42

    IIRC, when Dreams Made Flesh came out, the publisher reissued the original trilogy to have matching covers. Judging by the price listed on Amazon, I assume they’re in trade paperback like Dreams Made Flesh was. I’m not sure if they did the same thing for The Invisible Ring though. It doesn’t look like it.

    did you see the German covers?

    I’ve never seen those, no. That’s pretty special. Is that supposed to be Jaenelle? I can see Dorothea maybe. Although is that supposed to be an axe? Maybe it’s Titian.

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  12. Estara
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 09:30:43

    Awww, it’s Heyne what can you expect. They’re not known for good quality paperback taste (not even in romance).

    I’m speaking about the German covers. Have you seen some of the German ROMANCE covers? They got stuck in the 80ies, bodice-rippers every single one, and there was a publisher who had edged all the pages IN RED!!

    You almost didn’t dare to buy the books anymore.

    There are no other edged-in-red paperbacks on the German market, not even erotica.

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  13. Devon
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 12:21:38

    Oooh this is out? I’m so excited. I love these books. Love Jaenelle too. Her Mary-Sue-ness never bothered me.

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  14. Jia
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 12:54:12

    It just came out yesterday.

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  15. Danielle
    Mar 05, 2008 @ 23:05:01

    Okay so I’ve been with the series from the start–even though I’m only 19 right now lol. Anyway I don’t know what to expect from this new novel after reading this. Another reviewer hated the book but I read the first two chapters or so of what was given on her website and it was interesting enough. Truth be told though I might need to start the series over because its been such a while haha. By the way the only things I haven’t touched are the Fae novels. Are they any good?

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  16. Jia
    Mar 06, 2008 @ 05:00:20

    I personally didn’t like her fae novels all that much. Oddly enough, I don’t hear many people talk about those. Everyone seems to read either her Black Jewels books or the Ephemera ones. I guess that says something right there.

    I did like this one but it is a change from the previous books in the series. If you’ve read the collection, the final novella “Kaeleer’s Heart” (I believe that’s the name) is similar in tone and execution to this book. I don’t think it’s for everyone and I was annoyed at the end when Surreal got pushed to the side again.

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  17. (Jān)
    Mar 06, 2008 @ 06:13:09

    I didn’t like the Fae novels at all. They were full of cliches and either very very good witches or very very bad men who hunted them.

    ReplyReply

  18. Diane
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 15:02:22

    I have read and reread Anne’s Bishop Black Jewels novels and enjoyed them. As Jia mentioned in her review, these novels are different and have something in them that appeals very much to me. I am looking forward to read this new one.

    I am wondering if Ms. Bishop is considering having her novels also published in audiobook format (CDs or MP3). I have discovered audiobooks when I had surgery for my hands. I can no longer hold books for hours on. It took a little getting used to (listening to audiobooks), now I enjoy them very much. I can listen to books almost anywhere and any time.

    Regards,
    Diane

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  19. Jia
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 16:42:25

    Diane: I did some Googling and it turns out all of Anne Bishop’s backlist will be coming to audio. No dates yet, but Penguin has bought the rights so audiobook lovers, rejoice!

    Information found here: http://jenniferjackson.org/index.php/2008/02/27/anne-bishop-books-coming-to-audio/

    ReplyReply

  20. Diane
    Mar 10, 2008 @ 19:32:25

    Hi Jia,

    Thank you very much for the info. I appreciate your prompt reply.
    Regards,
    Diane

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  21. Christina
    May 06, 2008 @ 14:23:52

    I have read and re-read all of Bishop’s novels, I own them all and open up any one at random when I’m having a bad day, its so easy to just fall right into that world, she is an excellent writer.
    As for the covers, I like some of the old ones, especially better than the one that link leads you to, which is terrible! (she looks creepy, not at all like she is described)
    As for the Fae books, the third one was the first one I ever read, picked up at random from the bookshop at the library, and I really like them, they have excellent female character development and so what if there is just one really bad big male evil character, you are missing the diverse personalities and relationships, Selena and her sister, for example, are really great! they make me laugh and remember to call my sister to chat, and the moral dilemma of the Gatherer and her fall from grace is such a driven storyline. Brianna is probably my favorite character though. I think they are definitely worth the read.

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  22. Alisa
    Jul 09, 2008 @ 14:32:06

    Truthfully, I was a bit disappointed by Tangled Web, and I had been look sooo forward to it. That does not mean that I don’t like Anne Bishop’s writings; it’s just the opposite. I LOVE the Black Jewel Trilogy and the Fae trilogy. I kind of gave up on reading Ephemera; it was getting a bit too complicated at the time. I am, however, again looking forward to another Black Jewel book coming March 2009, called The Shadow Queen. I really hope that this one will live up to my expectation.

    ReplyReply

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