Title: The Tangled Lands
Author: Glenda Larke
Publisher: Wizards Tower Press, 2023; RRP: 22 pounds stg
A new Glenda Larke novel is always welcome on the shelf; her The Aware – the first book in the first of her four trilogies to date – remains a firm favourite, and each of her subsequent works has shown similar skill at world building, character development and accomplished storytelling.
Larke was raised in and has returned to Western Australia, via Tunisia and Malaysia, and while she has mined those landscapes for her work, The Tangled Lands offers a more conventional European-style fantasy setting. One of Larke’s world-building strengths is the use of vernacular, drawing on the landscape and culture to add to the verisimilitude of the world’s culture. The occasional use of dialect harking to the real world undercuts this in parts here, but is overshadowed by the charm of sayings such as ‘pox n rot’ and ‘blind as a flea in a rabbit hole’.
Similarly to her first novel, the striking standalone Havenstar (1999), an intriguing magic system helps further differentiate the world, being entwined in both society and plot.
In the Tangled Lands, the magic is wielded by the redweavers of Kanter, considered a threat to Talodiac, who does its best to keep the magic users out. The redweavers are able to traverse distances by way of magical portals and can also use their magic to form compelling illusions. Talodiac’s priests, serving their strange deities, want none of that business interfering in the smooth running of their kingdom, and King Edwild agrees. Especially when the redweavers strike close to home.
The novel is divided into parts, each devoted to largely a single point of view in what is an elegant way to piece together the narrative from different characters’ experiences, whether separate or shared. Having one character scribing his experience in the first person is a nice diversion from the third person elsewhere. Pervaded as it is by the threat of an execution, the section also builds that character and the reader’s empathy for him while slotting neatly into the contest of cloak and dagger.
The first part of the novel works as a prologue, setting up the seismic events that follow. Enter Sergeant Hervan of the King’s Guard, serving his liege with rigid loyalty, even as his family is drawn deeper into a world-changing conspiracy. His son, Taygen, possessed of a strong throwing arm and certain lack of caution, becomes a counterpoint as he encounters the wanderers Haze and Innata, each with their own cloaked pasts. He finds himself caught in the classic quandary of fealty versus … let’s call it instinct, for his motivations are unwrapped delightfully upon the page and don’t need labelling here.
As one might expect in a tale of intrigue and royal shenanigans, not all is at it seems, and deception is not confined to the redweavers as the two lands are drawn inexorably together as the plot unwinds. For Taygen and Haze in particular, it is a path of discovery as they find their place in the world and come to terms with their pasts. As the world and our protagonists reveal their layers of secrets, the story marches to its grand showdown with the fate of two lands in the balance.
It’s likely that some of the big reveals won’t come so much as a surprise but a confirmation of the reader’s suspicions, but The Tangled Land manages to dodge some of the obvious expectations to deliver another fine, entertaining addition to the Larke bibliography.
Reviewed by: Jason Nahrung
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book Review Group