Tangled Web
Jade Falconer
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On the run from vengeful moneylenders, David disguises himself as a maiden to make his escape. He doesn’t expect his alter-ego, Mary, to attract the interest of a handsome wandering minstrel that comes to his aid. But the charming Alexander is the embodiment of gallantry and Mary is not immune. Nor is David.
Despite his attempts to remain aloof, David finds himself falling for Alexander. And Alexander is smitten, but with Mary. But Alexander has a secret of his own, a secret that could toll the death knell for their innocent romance. When they each learn the truth, can they overcome the daunting obstacles in their way?

The only thing making this “tangled web” sticky was the sugar.

There is nothing positive for me to say about this novel. At all. It’s rather mind-boggling, really, how I’ve been turning this over in my head the last couple of days, trying to figure out how to review this book, and realizing that I actually don’t have anything nice to say about it. I should have had something to praise. Improbability in a romance novel doesn’t faze me – improbable circumstances are the stuff that fantasy is made of, and what is a romance if not a fantasy? So I’m not disturbed at the idea of a prince rescuing a maiden from rogues on the highway, only to find out that the maiden he fell in love with is a man in drag. In the right hands, it could have been interesting. It had potential.

Unfortunately, Tangled Web completely failed to live up to that potential. It failed at pretty much everything: setting, characterization, dialogue, plot, obstacles, and resolution. Even the sex failed to be interesting.

Worse, I actively hated the prince. Alexander was set up to be everything a heroic prince should be: the sword, the horse, the crown, the education, the chivalry, blah blah blah. He was actually just weak, sappy, clueless, boring, and a follower instead of a leader. In short, he was a pansy. He wasn’t worthy of riding his horse, much less David. I was sneering at him through the entire book.

I didn’t utterly hate David; I didn’t like him, but at least I didn’t hate him. I don’t particularly like it when an author slaps a dick on a woman and calls it a M/M romance, but hey, femmes and drag queens do exist in the world and if only David had had the presence of either, it could have worked marvelously. Once again, though, the character failed to deliver on what he was set up to be. David was, at best, a wretchedly-contrived plot device instead of a real character.

The first thirty chapters of this book could have been condensed down to five, if only the author had bothered to stop repeating the sappy, uninspired, revoltingly-sweet sentiments. This book had forty-nine chapters full of words, certainly, but only about twelve chapters’ worth of content; it rather reminded me of that filler that some pet food companies put into their product to make a pet feel as if it’s full even though it’s not receiving any nutrition. I had no sympathy for the characters, felt no excitement in the plot, and found no real emotion in this novel other than relief when I was finally finished. In fact, if the entire cast had been flattened by a whale falling out of the sky, it would have been no less improbable, made just as much sense, and would at least have injected some excitement into the story.

In all fairness, I’m sure that there are some people who are on the hunt for precisely this kind of ridiculous, flowery nonsense. Still, I’m kind of embarrassed that I paid for this novel, and I most certainly don’t recommend that anyone else make such a drastic mistake. If you’re in the mood for sugar, go buy a box of Jelly Bellies: it’s still candy, but at least it delivers on the promise of flavor.

The reason why CarvedWood and I do this review gig is because we want to promote a genre of books that we love, and believe deserves more recognition and praise. But we will not sacrifice honesty for promotion, and unfortunately with Tangled Web, we have been tested in this.

I want to first point out that though this is a fluffy book, full of sweetness and slight angst, and although this is a style of story I don’t typically read, I still wanted to enjoy this book. I wanted to. I really did. The cover art was beautiful and I adore cross-dressing. A boy in a dress is guaranteed to get my attention and backing. But the writing style was just too annoying for my tastes.

First, there are constant Point-Of-View changes. From one paragraph to the next, the author changed the POV between characters. From one paragraph to another, the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ could be either character at any time.

Where L.E. Bryce’s Dead to the World showed that telling instead of showing can work, Tangled Web demonstrates why it usually doesn’t. Emotions and history that could and should have been related in dialog and action were merely stated in the narration. The book could have been half its size if the incessant over-explaining had been removed. I felt as if the author either didn’t remember her own story or thought that the reader wouldn’t.

The story is trite and melodramatic. The plot device that brings about the entire cross-dressing, hiding-for-his-life scenario was weak and unbelievable. It felt as if the author just needed something to set up the entire story, but setting your story on a weak base can make the entire thing faulty. The device was also easily set aside when David needed to get a particular letter and the author sent him back to the place where he had previously feared for his life.

The dialog and language were incongruous, cloying, and, honestly, kind of corny. I couldn’t stop my eyes from rolling with every other sentence. The author also contradicted herself a number of times. I believe once may have been either a typo or perhaps the sentiment was not given the right way. Another was, I think, because the author didn’t know that cunning and intelligent are synonyms, not antonyms, as they had been used.

The setting was confusing. I wasn’t sure if I was reading an Historical or an Alternate Universe novel. If it was historical, the inaccuracies were astounding and further made the story unbelievable. If it was an Alternate Universe, I would have loved to have been informed of that fact.

There was a somewhat good point to the story. Role playing and rough play were brought up between David and Alexander. It seemed completely out of character, but it was nice to see a kink brought up in such a vanilla story. It was talked to death and never really shown, but it was brought up.

I can’t really recommend this book. I think the idea was a good one, but the execution of it faltered. But if you enjoy overdramatic super-fluff (you know, like a soap opera done with thees and thous) you might just enjoy this one. I have read that the author has been nominated for an award for another of her books. So, of course, you don’t have to just take our word for the writing. There are certainly people out there who enjoy Falconer’s work. It just wasn’t our cup of tea.