Harper Voyager (2008)
Black Jewels #6
Reading this book was an interesting experience. On one hand, my prior knowledge and pleasure of reading Anne Bishop’s work gave me a certain expectation of character and story. On the other, the style of Tangled Webs altered my expectations and left me feeling the novel was somewhat, well, under-done in some way. Not necessarily a bad way, but not entirely what I was expecting.
Tangled Webs takes us once again on a journey into Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels world. Bishop has ventured many times into the Realms of the Blood, a fascinating and intricate world that takes our deepest fears, clothes them in nightmares and cobwebs and dreams, and turns the dark unknown into a rich tapestry of intrigue and magic. Bishop’s world is powerfully and realistically drawn, her characters multi-faceted and challenging, and her writing is gorgeously reminiscent of fantasy masters such as Robin McKinley and is as sexy as today’s best romance authors. Which is why I have high expectations of her work.
My impressions of this novel however, are more confused. While the author has given the same attention to detail and wonderful character interplay I’ve come to expect, and even enlarged upon the story told in the novels and stories that have gone before, I was still left feeling somewhat let down by certain aspects of the story.
To begin, the actual premise of the novel seems to be a lot less solid than in Bishop’s previous work. Tangled Webs sees Jaenelle decide to create a “spooky house” to entertain the landens – the non-blood or, I suppose, non-noble people – of her lands. Her consort, Daemon, and adopted father, Saetan, are horrified that she would turn what they are  into something frivolous for the amusement of the people. To be truthful, so was I! (For comparison, it would be somewhat like the British Royal Family performing in a comedy sketch lampooning themselves.)
While I understand that the trauma Jaenelle has gone through in her life and the childhood she had (again, go read the previous books!) may make her less sophisticated than might be expected, at the same time, she is Witch. She is the most powerful creature in her world, and this strange idea seems to serve little purpose other than to provide a base for the rest of the plot. It certainly doesn’t fit with what we know of the Blood, and of Jaenelle herself.
What it does is change the tone of the book; instead of the writing being sensually dark as I’ve come to expect, the style becomes, well, almost a little juvenile. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Young Adult novels. But it goes against my expectations, the subject matter and the characterisation established in the earlier books. The fit just isn’t right and it was, for me, quite offputting.
Having said that, there is a lot that worked really well in this book. Other than the unevenness in Jaenelle’s character, the rest of the book’s inhabitants are great fun to read. The interplay between them is delightful and deep and dark by turns, and Bishop draws the evolving personalities beautifully. She continues to develop primary and secondary characters from earlier stories without making you feel you should have read those previous books to understand the relationships in play; no easy task. The writing is never clunky and Bishop dishes up some of the best dialogue in fantasy today.
You need to know I read this book twice in two months. It’s a ripping read, despite the points I noted earlier. Many readers may not even perceive those points as flaws. Tangled Webs is worth the read if you’re a fan of Bishop’s novels, primarily because of the continuing family saga, which is a joy to behold. If you’ve never read the books before, you won’t even notice what I see as an odd plot point, because you won’t have my expectations of the story. So go, read, enjoy – I’m sure you will!
 If you haven’t read the books, they are beings of power who rule in their world, and have strong connections with what we would call the underworld… That’s all I’m going to tell you. Go and read the series!