Tangled Webs by Lee Bross
Before we begin, I have something very important to show you all. Now, if you’ll please direct your attention slightly to the right of this screen…
LOOK AT THAT COVER!
I should know better by now than to go judging things by covers–but really, I think we’d all be lying if we tried to deny it–but this was just impossible to resist! Couple that with promises of blackmail and merchant ships and and eighteenth-century secrets and ohhhhhhhhh man. Come to mama!
(PS. I already regret that last sentence).
It really is a crying shame that appearences are so deceiving. Like a good politician, Tangled Webs left me so many empty promises. Exhibit A: the cover may be amazing but the book inside is mediocre.
I felt a little jilted actually because of just how much the implication of the synopsis led me astray. It doesn’t lie–Lady A is the most notorious blackmailer, she DOES sneak around as a boy, she DOES want out of her secret life, she IS emboldened by Grae–but where the synopsis promises all this with excitement and intrigue, the book delivers it in the most subpar, lukewarm, dull way possible. For one, there’s hardly any blackmail at all. Apart from two scenes of secret-trading, only one of which being particularly eventful, the rest is pretty much just Arista trying to escape. Where’s the intrigue? The spying? The manipulation? THE VERY THING THAT MADE ME WANT TO READ IT?!?!
Oh wait–it’s nonexistent.
Don’t get me wrong: Ariana gives it her best shot. But the book starts too late for us to get much of that. First scene is blackmail for Bones and I right away thought I’d enjoy it but that’s moments before she meets Grae, the day before she meets Wild, and the night before the fire that sets everything in motion. All of a sudden the blackmail is missing and she’s collecting payment for passage out of London. Oh and remember how she apparently dresses up as a boy to get around at night? Yeah. Once. And that’s before the fire too.
There are some instances where you can see the sneak of Lady A in dear Arista, mostly when she’s looking out for someone she cares about. Those are the best parts of the book so it’s unfortunate they’re so few and far between.
Arista herself isn’t particularly cunning or impressive. She’s more insecure and naive than anything else; this is fine, but not for a notorious blackmailer no matter how much of an alternate persona it is. She does have her moments though and she’s brave for sure, so that’s redeeming. IDK. I didn’t hate her, she’s just unimpressive.
Oh, and lustful.
HOLY INSTA-LOVE! Tangled Webs is probably the most at-first-sight devastating case I’ve read in ages. By the end of the first chapter, Arista and Grae have already met into a heady, lustful infatuation, followed by Grae hunting her down at every opportunity and she losing herself at even the merest glimpse of him. It’s also super horomone-charged–they’re clutching at each other every chance they get from the very second that they meet. Arista spends more time preoccupied by thinking about his touch and kiss and caress and fantasizing about the feel of him than she does figuring out her blackmail stuff, and even that is all done in relation to Grae! There’s chemistry there, that’s for sure, but physical chemistry. It’s more like they decided they liked each other and grabbed at the other than developed actual deep-rooted feelings for each other. Key word being ‘develop’ because 5 seconds doesn’t quite cut it.
A good point of Tangled Webs is the setting which is both unique and well done. Not many books are done in the eighteenth century–mostly we get the 1600s or 1800s –ad the Enlightenment is a cool period to be in. It’s one of the things that drew me to the book in the first place! Bross creates an authentic picture of 1725 London without spending too much time explaining or building it: it just is. This allowed the book to skip over a lot of that pesky set-up and feel, in a way, more real because it didn’t need to justify anything. It would have been nice though to dig a wee bit deeper into some facets of life in that period or weave them further into the story. For instance, there is one scene where Arista is taken to a secret feminist philosophy session which is fascinating! but hen nothing came of it. It would have been great if the scene was incorporated more into the main story, even just by using the people Arista met there, so that it became a more cohesive part of the book. There were a number of avenues introduced but left unexplored.
A general note on the story is that it’s not especially surprising. Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t try to surprise you–it gives it a good shot!–but any twists fall flat. It’s like that obnoxious kid who cracks a stupid joke but ends up the only one laughing: you get excited for the joke and then…you’re not. It’s like that, but minus the sad self-laughter (which I am all too familiar with…). I don’t know if it’s just me but I saw pretty much every ‘surprise’ Arista got coming from a mile away.
Overall Tangled Webs is alright. Not especially good, but it’s not especially bad either and even with everything I wasn’t fond of there were things that I did enjoy, even more when all thrown together. It definitely helps too that it’s a standalone novel (well, now–it was meant to be a duology but the second book got cancelled) because a) I don’t know how much motivation I could drum up for the second one and b) the ending wraps up nicely and anything more would seem forced. I’m content with what there is and more or less moderately content with the novel itself.
Click here for the book synopsis on goodreads!