“Trust Not the Cat…”
As the fourth book in the Landover series, Terry Brooks’s somewhat comedic-fantasy series (especially when compared to the serious Shannara saga), The Tangle Box continues Ben Holiday’s adventures as king of a fairytale kingdom that he purchased in a shopping catalogue. Having successfully ruled Landover for several years, Ben is delighted when his sylph-wife Willow informs him that she is expecting their first child. However, the celebration is short-lived when the charlatan Horris Kew returns from exile in Ben’s world to the Landover, with a new plan to cause havoc.
Having accidentally released a creature known as Gorse from a magical box, Kew becomes the unwitting pawn in its plan to seize control of Landover. Having lured the three most powerful individuals in the kingdom — King Holiday, the dragon Strabo and the witch Nightshade — Kew traps them within the confines of the Tangle Box in order for the Gorse to proceed with plans of domination without interference.
From this basic scenario Brooks creates three major storylines; one good, one mediocre, and one just plain bad. The best plot is concerned with the situation that Ben, Strabo, and Nightshade (who is Brooks’s best Landover character) find themselves in when they awaken in the Tangle Box, unaware of their surroundings and stripped of their memories, magic and identities. Calling themselves the Knight, the Lady, and the Gargoyle, the three companions (completely unaware that they are adversaries in real life) traverse the mysterious terrain of the Tangle Box searching for answers to their existence. Brooks plays a great psychological game between the three of them and surprising things happen that change their complicated relationships forever, especially in the case of Nightshade and Ben. Their love/hate relationship has always been a highlight of the Landover stories, and what transpires here has the potential for payoff in later books.
Meanwhile Willow is on a quest of her own, as the birth of a child with sylph and human parentage has complications. Seeking the advice of the Earth Mother, Willow is told that she must collect earth from three locations; Landover, Earth, and the Faerie Mists in order to secure the safe delivery of her child. Joined by an old favourite, the faerie-cat Edgewood Dirk, Willow sets off on an intriguing (but hardly exciting) journey for the sake of her unborn child.
That leaves the last major storyline which is unfortunately both predictable and convoluted. While Ben and Willow are gone, Questor Thews (the court wizard) and Abernathy (the court scribe) must deal with the bothersome Horris Kew. Introducing objects called “mind’s eye crystals” that show the bearer their heart’s desire, Kew suggests distributing them to the kingdom — an idea to which Questor and Abernathy foolishly agree. Unbeknownst to them, the crystals are merely a distraction from the Gorse’s true intentions in taking over the kingdom.
Unfortunately, the Gorse makes a generic villain whose personality, motivation, and evil plan is just plain boring, and the clownish Horris Kew isn’t much better. (Neither is his bird Biggar, whom I would have mentioned earlier if he hadn’t been such a pointless character). The execution and resolution of this particular storyline drags the story down considerably.
Nonetheless, The Tangle Box is an entertaining enough tale if you’re looking for pleasant escapism. Deepening characters and expanding relationships, this bodes well for future books in the Landover series and is sure to be a hit with fans — Brooks even throws in a quick reference to The Lord of the Rings when Biggar suggests he and Horris escape to the world where the people with the “big furry feet live.” However, for newcomers it’s best not to start reading here; retrace your steps till you find the previous books in the series: Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold!, Wizard at Large, and The Black Unicorn.