Review: Tangled Web by Crista McHugh

Tangled Web by Tangled WebCrista McHugh
Book #1 – The Deizian Empire
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Book provided by Entangled Publishing

The deadliest assassin in the empire just got too close to her target…

Azurha, a former slave turned deadliest assassin in the empire, has just been offered the ultimate challenge—seduce, then murder the new Emperor. But Titus is not the tyrant his forefathers were, and his radical ideas might be the glimmer of hope the empire needs.

Titus Sergius Flavus has yet to master the powerful magic of his ancestors—magic he must wield if he’s to protect his people—but his father’s death has left him no choice. Rule the Deizian Empire and attempt to right his ancestors’ wrongs, or watch her fall to his greedy kin.

More than just Titus’ ideas hold Azurha captive. Night after night, he awakens desires she thought lost, and uncovers the magic of her hidden lineage. As her deadline approaches, Azurha is forced to make an impossible decision—complete her job and kill the man she loves, or fail and forfeit both their lives.

D.G.’s Rating: 4 skulls = B+

Tangled Web was a very pleasant surprise. I don’t know what I expected when I decided to read it but I was fascinated by the interesting mix of a Roman-like Empire set in a fantasy world plus the unusual role reversal where the hero is the bookish one that needs protection while the heroine is the muscle.

Please don’t get the impression that Titus is a wimp or anything of the sort. He’s just a bookish man who was elevated to the position of Emperor sooner than he was expecting. He’s an idealist who has great plans for the Empire but is not sure how to implement them. He lacks confidence because he knows he can’t compare to his warrior father and as an unknown entity, he’s seen as weak. His apparent weakness is the reason why other nobles feel he can be easily dispatched.

Azurha for her part, is a former slave so I don’t have to tell you what her life has been like. After escaping a life of slavery, she becomes the best assassin in the realm and takes the assignment to kill the Emperor as a way to fund her retirement. But then she meets Titus who is kind and treats her like a human being. Before you know it, she’s wrestling with her feelings for the Emperor and her need to have an obscure life.

The characterization was really good. You can really believe both in their roles and how they were great for each other. Azurha gave Titus the confidence in himself he lacked, while Titus gave Azurha the love she’s never had. I specially liked how the author portrayed Titus’ growth. At the beginning, he seemed so lost and insecure but as the book ends, he’s a force to be reckoned. He’s not a warrior in the physical sense – he can defend himself but he’s not a fighter – but you can feel the strength of his Will and you know he’ll do everything in his power to change the way the future of the Empire.

When my father died, I felt like I was adrift in a sea of chaos. I didn’t know how someone like me could ever replace him. He was a natural leader…I was a man of books and dreams, not a warrior. Then I decided I didn’t have to be him. I could shape the empire into something new. Something better. Something far greater than my ancestors could ever imagine.

The conflict between Azurha and Titus is difficult to overcome so I couldn’t fault her indecision. As you can imagine there’s no easy way to tell him: “Lots of people want to kill you and they sent me to do it! But don’t worry about me now. I love you and I’ll protect you.”‘ (As this is a romance and there’s every expectation that they will end up together, it’s not a spoiler if I tell you she didn’t kill him. :)) I applaud the author for making her assassin’s skills really believable. There are examples of her kills (in one of them, she opened a hole in a roof and dropped poison in the target’s open mouth while he was sleeping! Yikes!)  and once she’s in “protecting Titus” mode, she’s constantly looking for threats and  evaluating the people they meet. I didn’t buy the reason why she didn’t kill him right away (she seemed pretty confident she could get away easily) but understood why she didn’t go through with it after she got to know him.

When I started reading I thought this was going to be a really steamy read but it wasn’t as much. Yes, there are lots of love scenes but most of them are nothing out of the ordinary. There are some allusions to future kink but those never materialize.

The world building was interesting and clever, specially the mix of a Roman-like Empire in a world full of magic. Like the Romans, the Deizians are a powerful people who conquered other races but unlike the Romans, they did it with their powerful magic. There is a conflict between different races and there are interesting political ramifications. There is a  connection between Azurha’s and Titus’ magic but this was not clearly explained. This is an important link between them but I didn’t understand how it came about.

Not everything is solved at the end of this book so I’m really, really looking forward to see how Titus puts together his plans for the Empire. I really can’t wait for the next book!

D.G.’s Rating =  ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠ 

Thanks to Entangled Publishing for providing a review copy of this book.

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