Well, after planning to read three other books and then abandoning each of them after a couple of pages for different reasons, I needed to find something to read. And, when looking through one of my book piles, I stumbled across the second-hand copy of Joan D. Vinge’s 2000 novel “Tangled Up In Blue” that I bought shortly after reading Vinge’s “World’s End” and then somehow forgot about.
Interestingly, although this novel is part of Vinge’s “Snow Queen” series, it can be read as a stand-alone story. Still, if you’ve read any of the other novels (and I’ve only read “World’s End”), then you’ll notice a few familiar characters, background elements, places etc…
So, let’s take a look at “Tangled Up In Blue”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.
On the planet Tiamat, two Hegemonic police officers – Nyx LaisTree and his half-brother Staun LaisNion – are just finishing their shift, when they are accosted by a rather uptight “by the book” technican called BZ Gundhalinu who wants them to go to the royal palace for guard duty at a party held by the Snow Queen, celebrating a sucessful hunt of sea-creatures called mers that are used in a longevity serum available only to the ultra-rich.
After the guard duty, the cops go out drinking before slipping away to visit a warehouse. As part of the uneasy relationship between Tiamat’s monarchy and the Hegemony, Tiamat natives are not permitted to own advanced technology. Of course, smuggling is rampant and the Queen uses her political influence to keep it that way. So, both Nyx and Staun are members of an unofficial vigilante group who breaks into smugglers’ warehouses and smashes up the illicit technology.
But, during this latest raid, they stumble across a group of armed men who kill most of them. Barely alive, Nyx recognises one of the men as a fellow police officer. But, before the man can kill Nyx, he is distracted by a commotion. Gundhalinu, having picked up something suspicious on the police frequencies has shown up at the warehouse with his superior officer, Jerusha, to investigate the illegal vigilante activity. Soon, they both get involved in a frantic fight with the mysterious armed cops.
In the aftermath, Nyx is interrogated by a cruel internal affairs officer called Jashari before being suddenly released from hospital and suspended from duty. Racked with grief by his brother’s death and suffering from partial amnesia about the events in the warehouse, he decides to go out and get some answers and some revenge. Meanwhile, Gundhalinu begins to investigate unofficially until he is called in by Chief Aranne and told that Nyx is under suspicion of stealing a valuable artefact and that Gundhalinu will be responsible for following him and finding out more…
One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was much more of a thriller than I’d initially expected 🙂 Not only does it have all of the atmosphere that you’d expect from a novel in this series, but it’s also a reasonably-paced gritty film noir-influenced police thriller too. It is also a really cool blend of the sci-fi and fantasy genres too – think “Blade Runner” meets “Game Of Thrones” 🙂 Seriously, this is one of those books that just gets better and better as it goes along.
So, I should start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements. It’s slightly more of a traditional-style thriller, with a really good blend of suspense, mystery, mini-cliffhangers, secret societies, political/criminal scheming, spy stuff and a couple of dramatic combat sequences too. Although you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced action-thriller novel, this novel reads a bit like a cross between a more focused harboiled “film noir” novel, a gritty drama novel and a vaguely “Game Of Thrones”-style political intrigue thriller 🙂
The novel’s “film noir” elements are interesting too, with the story including the kind of complicated web of criminal intrigue that you’d expect from the genre, not to mention a grizzled detective protagonist (who has been suspended from duty and wants both answers and revenge), a certain level of moral ambiguity, a “Maltese Falcon“-style focus on several people trying to get hold of something, grim/gritty depictions of violence and a complicated love interest character (Devony).
Yet, at the same time, this novel feels a bit more focused than most classic 1920s-50s hardboiled crime novels do, with the story having enough complexity to fit into the genre without ever really becoming confusing (if you’re paying attention). Plus, it also includes a few elements from the buddy cop genre too, which are handled really well 🙂
Not only that, this novel is also at least slightly evocative of “Blade Runner“, whilst also being it’s own thing too 🙂 In addition to the noir elements and the gritty futuristic police-based drama, one of the coolest ways that this novel riffs on “Blade Runner” is probably how the novel’s setting is this wonderfully atmospheric mixture of fantasy-genre style ancient buildings and futuristic tech. Although this gives the novel it’s own unique atmosphere, it’s also a really cool and creative homage to the “used future” elements of “Blade Runner” too 🙂
In terms of the novel’s sci-fi elements, they’re really brilliant 🙂 In addition to lots of backstory and vivid worldbuilding that is delivered in a relatively concise way, the novel’s futuristic technology is both a background thing and a central part of both the story’s main plot and the political drama sub-plot in the background. In short, this novel is as much about not having technology as it is about all of the cool things that technology can do. A lot of the novel’s background revolves around people being motivated by being denied technology for one reason or another (eg: political policy, history etc…).
Plus, although this novel is more sci-fi than fantasy, one of the cool things about it is how it blends both genres. In short, it is a sci-fi story that is set in a fantasy-influenced world, where things like monarchies, traditions, feudalism etc… still play a role. Not only is this reflected in the story’s slightly fantasy-influenced setting, but also in the novel’s political intrigue elements – which are wonderfully evocative of something like “Game Of Thrones” 🙂
Thematically, this is both a novel about death and also a novel about loyalty and honour too. Both Gunhalinu and Nyx are both mourning the loss of important relatives, and this has an effect on their actions and characters as the story progresses. The novel also focuses on how loyalty and honour can come into conflict with each other (eg: A secret society, a vigilante group, smuggling gangs, Devony’s torn loyalties, LaisTree’s loyalty to his brother, Gundhalinu’s “by the book” attitudes etc..). This topic is handled in a brilliantly nuanced way, with the story’s eventual conclusion being that the two things aren’t necessarily polar opposites of each other.
In terms of the characters, this novel is superb 🙂 Not only do all of the main characters (Gundhalinu, Nyx and Devony) experience a surprising amount of character development as the story progresses, but they also have a level of personal and emotional complexity that really helps to make them feel like realistic, flawed people too 🙂 In addition to all of this, the conflict and contrast between many of the characters is also a major source of drama and depth for the story too 🙂
As for the writing, it is stellar 🙂 This novel’s third-person narration is a lot more focused, faster, slightly more informal and more “matter of fact” than the formal narration in Vinge’s “World’s End” was, but without losing any of the atmosphere or depth that you’d expect from this series 🙂 This more focused narration is evocative of the hardboiled crime genre, but never turns into just a typical Chandler/Hammett pastiche. In other words, this novel has it’s own distinctive narrative style 🙂
As for length and pacing, this novel is better than I’d expected 🙂 At an efficient 235 pages in the hardback edition, it never really feels like a page is wasted. Likewise, thanks to both the thriller-style structure and the slightly more “matter of fact” writing style, this novel feels a lot more energetic and faster-paced than “World’s End” did 🙂
All in all, this was an even better novel than I’d expected 🙂 Not only is it a cool and creative blend of the sci-fi, film noir and fantasy genres, but it was also much more of a thriller than I’d expected 🙂 If you like films like “Blade Runner” or just want an imaginative thriller that also includes depth, atmosphere and interesting characters, then this one is well worth reading 🙂
If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.