Series: Tangled Webs # 1
Published by Disney Hyperion on June 23, 2015
Genres: Historical FIction
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, the infamous Thief Taker General who moves seamlessly between the city's criminal underworld and its most elite upper 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 Graeden Sinclair, the son of a wealthy merchant. Grae has traveled the world, has 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?
One of the things that caught my eye in the synopsis for “Tangled Webs” is the description of the protagonist as “the most notorious blackmailer” in eighteenth-century London. But after reading “Tangled Webs,” I have to say, “er, not so much.” Arista is a sympathetic and fairly complex character, but a notorious blackmailer? I think it would be more honest to call her a glamorous messenger.
It’s impossible not to feel compassion for Arista who, along with other children, is enslaved by an evil man with the even more evil-sounding name of Bones. Bones beats the children, starves them, and forces them into labor for him. Arista is one of his most prized slaves, and he sends her on missions to collect and trade scandalous secrets among the wealthy residents of London. This is where my disagreement with the term “blackmailer” comes in, because Arista is merely doing the bidding of Bones, passing messages between Bones and his clients. We’re frequently told that people are terrified of Lady A (Arista’s persona when she is sent out on her missions), but I never understood why. Yes, she is an extension of Bones, who IS truly terrifying, but Arista/Lady A never presents herself in a threatening manner. Plus, the people she encounters all willingly sought out the services of Bones, so they have no reason to be alarmed when Lady A shows up.
Nevertheless, I liked Arista. She’s clever, she’s (somewhat) vengeful, and she took me by surprise a few times. Arista’s world is filled with people who underestimate her and try to take advantage of her. Several times, I think they’ve succeeded, and just when I want to scream, “What are you thinking, Arista?!?” it’s revealed that she was on top of the situation the entire time.
Arista is most likable when she is in the company of her two best friends. Her relationships with these two girls are a little lopsided; both girls view her in an almost worshipful light, while Arista is very maternal towards them. Arista’s abusive background can believably result in her need to be protective of other girls, but it would have been nice to have seen a bit more of a distinction between the two relationships.
I was a bit less enamored with Arista’s male love interests. Yep, it’s a love triangle. One of them was also a captive of Bones since childhood. He protected Arista when they were both very young and as they grew up committing crimes for Bones. This is the more interesting of Arista’s two love interests, primarily because the other one is just awful. That would be Grae, whom Arista meets early in the story and who continues to pop up everywhere she goes. Through an unbelievable series of coincidences, Arista ends up living in his house, there’s a big misunderstanding, Grae hates Arista, and then Grae does a 180 in the span of about two sentences and decides he loves her. If you blink, you’ll miss the moment that Grae switches from complete mistrust to head over heels in love. In other words, cliche followed by cliche followed by cliche.
Even though the story is fairly predictable, it’s fun. Much of that fun lies in waiting to see who is going to deceive Arista next, wondering how she will respond, and then feeling the thrill when she one-ups those who betray her.
My main wish is that Arista would have taken more initiative in the blackmailing enterprise. I’d like to see her scheming and giving these rich people reasons to truly fear her. It might have made her less sympathetic, but it would have made her much more interesting and complicated.
Note: This review is based on an ARC received from the publisher.