Glenda Larke, The Tangled Lands, Wizard's Tower Press, 2023.
The Tangled Lands is a very entertaining portal fantasy novel in two secondary worlds with endearing characters, lively prose and mysteries at its heart.
Queen Thalia died and so did her baby, the heir of the throne. What people ignore though is that the baby was a changeling, disguised by magic to look like the prince when in fact it was a child from Kanter, a land of magic inaccessible without powers. Eighteen years later, Taygen, the younger son of the guard who last saw the queen befriends a young woman named Haze. Haze travels with her aunt, Innata. They're hiding, but from who and why?
The beginning of The Tangled Lands reminded me a lot of the fantasy that was published in the late 90s and early 00s, but then the very straightforward narrative became an epistolary account of Taygen's life to a mysterious gaoler as he's imprisoned in the King's keep. This part of the book completely engrossed me because I loved Taygen's voice, his cheekiness and cleverness. By the time the novel reverted to a more straightforward narrative, Taygen and his friend Haze had hooked me and I had to see this through to the end.
They remained my two favourite characters in The Tangled Lands, despite the fact I'm not so keen usually on younger characters. I also enjoyed the character of Innata as she slowly comes into her own along the novel.
The worldbuilding is well done. I enjoyed the role of the gods in the novel and the way the two kingdoms are linked and their distrust of each other. The latter is also an occasion to explore topical issues of immigration and refugees.
One of my biggest issues with a certain kind of fantasy is the emphasis it puts on monarchy. Larke manages to navigate this trope elegantly and although The Tangled Lands isn't the most revolutionary (politically speaking) of fantasy novels, it doesn't consider monarchy as a natural or desirable order either. I also particularly appreciated how family and abilities aren't defined by blood only.
Portal fantasy is a favourite subgenre of mine and I enjoyed to see it used effectively in this novel. It provided tension, twists and mysteries.
The Tangled Lands is a very immersive read with a quick pace, mysteries and revelations. Larke plays with the narrative form in delightful ways in the first part of the book while the second part relies more on wondering how the characters will succeed out of the very thorny situations they are in.
Larke has written with The Tangled Lands an extremely enjoyable portal fantasy novel that'll immerse you in an intriguing world that reveals its layers slowly and carries you throughout with great characters. A perfect read for an entertaining moment with magic and other worlds.
Disclaimer: a free copy was received but with no obligation attached to review it.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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