Warning: This review will contain some spoilers.
The Black Jewels Trilogy was and is one of my very favorite guilty pleasures. Yet I’ve been avoiding Tangled Webs (what is tagged book six in what is now called The Black Jewels Series — don’t even get me started on that) for some time. To explain why, I’ll give you a quote from the publisher’s blurb:
“The invitation is signed “Jaenelle Angelline,” and it summons her family to an entertainment she had specially prepared. Surreal SaDiablo, former courtesan and assassin, arrives first. But when she enters the house, Surreal finds herself trapped in a living nightmare created by the tangled webs of Black Widow witches…and if she uses Craft to defend herself, she risks being sealed in the house forever. But Jaenelle did not send the invitation. And now Jaenelle and her family must rescue Surreal and the others inside without becoming trapped themselves — and then discover who has created such a place, and why…”
My first reaction (and one I can imagine many fans of the series might have had) was “When did Surreal get that stupid?” It sounded absurd. But this is in part because it’s missing an important piece of information: The reason Surreal, a generally wary and suspicious character, walks into this trap completely unwarily is because Jaenelle was in fact preparing such a house for entertainment — a haunted house, basically, based on the ideas that ignorant landens (non-Bloods) have of the Blood. Of course I can see why this was left off the blurb; aside from just sounding utterly ridiculous, what it would do is warn readers that they’re being sold a glorified Halloween episode. Because that’s what this is.
I’m breaking my “start with the good first” rule — on account of this wall banger lacking much in the way of good. I don’t even know where to begin here. The plot? A landen mystery writer who discovers he’s really Blood and is so angry at other Blood for laughing at his erroneous depictions of them that he decided to pay Witches to help him create a murderous spooky house with thirty exits which close each time someone uses Craft. Why, it’s a brilliant idea! Just ask the characters, who keep insisting that if it was a story, it would be “ingenious.” Um, yeah, no. If I want Halloween episodes I’ll watch old family sitcoms, thank you.
How about the characters? Never before have they pissed me off quite this much. Am I supposed to think Surreal is tough and cool for bullying landen children who she could easily kill with barely a thought? I don’t. Not even with Anne Bishop painting them as the most one-dimensional, unrealistic little snots you can possibly imagine. I’m not impressed with the appalling disdain Surreal and numerous other Blood have for the landens and their ignorance — an ignorance the Blood themselves appear to have done nothing to correct (and in fact the spooky house Jaenelle plans to create is more taunting that ignorance than anything else).
And while I’m at it, if the only way you can make your characters seem smart is to make them brighter than children you yourself have written as having about the IQ of wet paper, you’ve got problems. I mean seriously. These children are stuck in a scary, unfamiliar situation and they proceed to try to throw their weight around and disobey their elders. Worse, after they see one of their companions disobey and open a door only to be viciously killed, two more of them do so later on in the book. Though not implicitly stated, it’s quite strongly implied — through, primarily, the thoughts of the adult characters — that if these were Blood children no such things would have occurred. But since Blood are too smart for that and the only real way for something to be horrifying is to have it done to children, the children must be landens. Too bad that’s more irritating than horrifying. And who are the adults to criticize? They barricade themselves in a room they’re marginally sure is safe but considering what they’ve been through you’d think they’d be cautious and have someone keep watch. But no, they all go to sleep, and only avoid death by stupidity through plot contrivance.
And then there’s the prose. Oh good lord, talk about stuck in the mud. Bishop’s prose is generally easy to read and spare on extraneous details — though at this point that seems to be more because she’s incapable of thinking up new, original details. Daemon is still more beautiful than handsome. Jaenelle still has a silvery, velvet-coated laugh or, when she’s Witch, a voice full of midnight and caverns. Lucivar still has a lazy, arrogant smile. Men are still snarly. All of the descriptions you’ve already read numerous times are exactly the same; everyone even still says things “too softly” so often I’d be dead of alcohol poisoning if I turned it into a drinking game.
Things pick up a little towards the very end when Lucivar shows up, stops angsting about his relationships with his brother and father, and starts being seriously awesome in the way only Lucivar can be. I love me some Lucivar. But even that doesn’t stop the forehead-smacking moments from pouring in. Lucivar can get into the house and back out again because he knows the Craft used to make it — Craft that neither Daemon nor Jaenelle (whose Craft teachers include, among others, The High Lord of Hell, the queen of a race of magic spiders who spin the most dangerous tangled webs known to the Blood, and the millennia old Queen and Prince of the dragons, progenitors of the Blood, to name a few) know. Then he puts on chain mail, which won’t give most people pause but made me boggle — wouldn’t flying warriors go in for something a bit lighter? And finally to stretch out the already thin plot and the so-called tension, there’s a demon-dead Eryien warrior in the house, just so Surreal and her companions will be worried it’s actually Lucivar and thus head in the opposite direction of their damn rescuer.
I guess there were a few moments I enjoyed. But mostly my pleasure came from the irony of the characters mocking the idiotic plots of psycho-writer’s books and making jabs at the purple prose sometimes found in romance novels. The truth is, I could go on at length about the things that pissed me off, offended me, or were just downright absurd. But I think you get the drift. This is a joke, a farce. If it weren’t for Bishop’s laurels — which are in all reality rather slim — this book wouldn’t have seen the light of day because it is, in a word, pointless.
The first three are the original Black Jewels trilogy
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