By Lee Bross
Available now from Disney-Hyperion
TANGLED WEBS is the first historical novel by Lee Bross, who has also written YA under the name Lanie Bross and NA as L.E. Bross. It is a rather flawed novel, particularly in the way that characters disappear until they're suddenly needed for the plot. At the same time, I found it hard to put TANGLED WEBS down.
Arista works for Bones, who bought her from the orphanage when she was a child. She acts as Lady A, the face of his blackmail operation. Everyone knows her mask, because she's the only one who has personal contact with clients. She takes all the risk with only a knife and her best friend Nic to protect her. When TANGLED WEBS opens, Arista is falling out of love with Nic because she is more desperate than ever to escape Bones and go straight, and she has realized that Nic wants to become Bones and loves this life.
Sooner than she expects, Arista has her chance. But she ends up working for a man who just might be worse. Grae, the son of a merchant, might be her only way out. Associating with Arista might ruin him, however.
It's a tangled web of a plot, with lots of clashing motivations. It's juicy stuff, and the setting of London in 1725 provides as intriguing social milieu. I rather liked Arista, who is good with a knife and not a bad thief, but who is desperate to find a way to break her way free without losing her soul. She wants redemption as much as she wants escape from the men who seek to control her, and that morality limits her choices in a good way.
I did appreciate that TANGLED WEBS mostly escapes the dreaded love triangle, despite their being two men in Arista's life. At the same time, she goes for and spends the most time with Grae, who is a rather straightforward sort. I can see why she likes him: honest, honorable, loyal. Nic, who she is in the process of getting over, drives the plot forward and actually has some ambiguity to him. He and Arista share a tight past, but is he still her friend or has he decided she's expendable? He's a source of internal and external conflict, and yet he disappears to give space to a straightforward romance.
Lee Bross can definitely write the historical side convincingly and spin a plot that keeps the pages turning. TANGLED WEBS has a bit of a character problem, one that hopefully can be course-corrected in the next book in the series. There's potential here, for sure.