I received this book for free from Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!! This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Tangled Webs by Lee Bross
Series: Tangled Webs #1
Published by Disney-Hyperion on June 23rd, 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Romance
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
London, 1725. Everybody has a secret. Lady A will keep yours—for a price. This sumptuous, scandalous YA novel is wickedly addictive.
Lady A is the most notorious blackmailer in the city. With just a mask and a gown to disguise her, she sweeps into lavish balls and exclusive events collecting the most valuable currency in 1725 London—secrets.
But leading a double life isn't easy. By day Lady A is just a sixteen-year-old girl named Arista who lives in fear of her abusive master, Bones, and passes herself off as a boy to move safely through the squalor of London's slums. When Bones attempts to dispose of his pawn forever, Arista is rescued by the last person she expects: Jonathan Wild, an infamous thief who moves seamlessly between the city's criminal underworld and its most elite circles. Arista partners with Wild on her own terms in the hopes of saving enough money to buy passage out of London.
Everything changes when she meets Grae Sinclair, the son of a wealthy merchant. Grae has traveled the world, seen the exotic lands Arista has longed to escape to her whole life, and he loves Arista for who she is—not for what she can do for him. Being with Grae gives something Arista something precious that she swore off long ago: hope. He has promised to help Arista escape the life of crime that has claimed her since she was a child. But can you ever truly escape the past?
The premise of Tangled Webs instantly caught my attention, as it contains so many things I usually love: London, blackmail, masquerade balls, slight genderbending. For all intents and purposes, I should have fallen hard and fast for this book. But no. And wow, it sure takes skill to make a story about blackmail so boring.
Let’s start there, because I feel like more readers will be disappointed by the blackmail aspect of this novel. Arista, or Lady A, is a “notorious blackmailer”, but no – she’s actually only the messenger. She picks up secrets, sealed in envelopes, and trades them for money. She doesn’t actually know what secrets she’s trading, and she doesn’t know the motivations of the people she’s trading with. She’s simply working for Bones and later for(/with) Wild. Only once did she muse that one of the secrets was that a Lord or Duke or someone was illegitimate, and it was traded to someone to steal that title and parliament seat. At the very end she does read some of the secrets, but she doesn’t reveal what they were. That is so not what I was expecting this story to be.
Instead, most of the story is just Arista bemoaning her position. She’s stuck serving Bones, and then she’s trapped in a deal with Wild. She doesn’t like her life at all, but as an orphaned woman, without it she would have no livelihood. That historical part of the story was pretty strong, and I did admire her for her protective nature. She wants to be sure that her maid, Becky, is taken care of, and in spite of her blackmailing profession, she possesses tremendous empathy when she sees those less fortunate. Unfortunately, the rest of her personality was rather bland.
I’ll be honest: the heavy focus of the book lies on the romance between Arista and Grae. And that’s a stumbling block for me. I did not ship it. It is historical fiction, so usually I’m more lenient about things like instalove, and I’m not even sure I would call this instalove, but it was not working for me from the start. Within no time, the book kicks off a fierce love triangle. Grae and Arista meet, and there’s insta-serious-infatuation. They talk once, dance once, then kiss, and that’s it – they can’t stop thinking about each other. And that set up could potentially work if there is an intense chemistry and (hopefully) a banterous connection. But instead it devolved into a load of sap that I can’t really handle.
They’re so damn attracted to each other (for whatever reason), but Grae is (rightfully) suspicious of Arista and (maybe too) fiercely demands her reveal everything about her past to him. She’s paralyzed by fear and regret for the things she’s done, so she can’t bear to open up to him. And basically it’s just drama, drama, drama. View Spoiler »And then at the end of the day, everything’s revealed, and his parents are totally cool with her MARRYING him. Sorry, but that’s NOT realistic for the time period. « Hide Spoiler This is not the ship for me. Not in ten thousand years.
So yeah. The story pretty much bored me at the end of the day. There’s some mystery and betrayal, but nothing that you can’t reasonably suspect having read the premise of the book. There was one twist that kind of shocked me, but then it was undone within the next two chapters. The plot felt more or less like a flatline, as I never really felt engrossed in the story, but when I realized that it wasn’t going to get any better, I was already almost done. It puzzles me that this is the start of a series – because honestly the plot stands alone and I can’t see any sequel potential. (Hey Disney, why not just publish The Archived #3 instead?)