REVIEW: Tangled Webs by Anne Bishop
Dear Ms. Bishop,
Ten 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
This book can be purchased in hardcover or ebook format.