ARC Review: Tangled Threads by Jennifer Estep
Post Written by Doll Elvie
I’d rather face a dozen lethal assassins any night than deal with something as tricky, convoluted, and fragile as my feelings.
But here I am. Gin Blanco, the semi-retired assassin known as the Spider. Hovering outside sexy businessman Owen Grayson’s front door like a nervous teenage girl. One thing I like about Owen: he doesn’t shy away from my past — or my present. And right now I have a bull’s-eye on my forehead. Cold-blooded Fire elemental Mab Monroe has hired one of the smartest assassins in the business to trap me. Elektra LaFleur is skilled and efficient, with deadly electrical elemental magic as potent as my own Ice and Stone powers. Which means there’s a fifty-fifty chance one of us won’t survive this battle. I intend to kill LaFleur—or die trying—because Mab wants the assassin to take out my baby sister, Detective Bria Coolidge, too. The only problem is, Bria has no idea I’m her long-lost sibling… or that I’m the murderer she’s been chasing through Ashland for weeks. And what Bria doesn’t know just might get us both dead…
Just in case you didn’t catch it earlier, this review is of the fourth book in a series. Spoilers for the earlier three books are kind of inevitable. If you haven’t yet read the first three books of the Elemental Assassin series and don’t mind being spoiled, first check out Kitt’s reviews of book one, Spider’s Bite, book two, Web of Lies, and book three, Venom.
Assassin: n. Derived from the word hashshashin (Arabic: حشّاشين), shares its etymological roots with hashish. Referred to a group during the Middle Ages, who killed members of the Muslim Abbasid, Seljuq, and Christian Crusader élite for political and religious reasons.
Gin Blanco, otherwise known as the deadly assassin the Spider, doesn’t kill for political or religious reasons. She never did. For a long time, Gin was murder for hire. She killed for cash, and it was good money, too. Sure, many of the people she killed probably belonged on most people’s Better Dead list, but Gin’s profession was morally ambiguous, to say the least. Except, she doesn’t do that anymore. Not the killing – Gin’s body count is probably higher than ever. She just doesn’t get paid for it anymore. And the only Better Dead list she’s worrying about is her own.
The world of urban fantasy is littered these days with strong, kick-butt heroines. Move over, Carl Jung – there’s a new archetype on the loose! But Jennifer Estep’s Gin Blanco stands out even in this newly populated landscape. In a genre already crowded with overused tropes, Gin is startlingly, refreshingly different. You might think that it would be hard to find an assassin, a hired gun, sympathetic as a main character, but Estep does a remarkable job of making Gin’s life and choices both understandable and acceptable to her readers. With each book, Estep has expanded Gin’s backstory and fleshed out her character just a little more, and Tangled Threads may be the best book in the series for character development on all fronts.
The first three books in the Elemental Assassins series were largely concerned with setting the stage for Gin’s showdown with the magical mob boss Mab. (I dare you to say that five times fast.) Characters were introduced, the corrupt metropolis of Ashland was explored, relationships were explained, and bad guys were killed, but only slowly did the rich, rewarding details of Gin’s past and her emotional landscape come to light.
This is the major playing field of Tangled Threads. The tentative relationship that Gin began with Owen Grayson at the end of Venom gives Gin nearly as much trouble as the evil fire elemental Mab Monroe and her new evil henchman, Elektra LaFleur. Plus, there’s the reappearance of Gin’s little sister Bria, an incorruptible detective on Ashland’s crooked police force. Bria is still hunting both her older sister and the Spider, unaware that they are the same person, and that Gin is that woman.
There are plenty of tough fantasy heroines out there, and they all have their issues. What stands out about Gin Blanco is that, although she has baggage and her fair share of hang-ups, she manages to work through them and make emotional progress with a minimum of hand-wringing, whining, or idiotic behavior that generally makes a reader want to smack sense into her. Yes, after her experience with Donovan Caine, Gin has a serious confidence problem concerning men in her personal life. But she faces the challenge with the same bravery that she brings to the seemingly impossible task of bringing down the queen of Ashland’s underworld.
With the exception of the villains, all of the characters in Tangled Threads have reached a high degree of complexity and emotional realism that is tremendously enjoyable to read. And, of course, Gin doesn’t sit still on her quest to bring down Mab Monroe, either. She’s faced with her greatest challenge yet – a fellow assassin brought in by Mab specifically to rid Ashland of two nuisances, by the names of the Spider and Bria Coolidge. Mab has no use for any cop that isn’t bent, and the Spider has gotten in her way far too many times. Elektra LaFleur has a rep as the best in the business, and Gin has to watch not only her own back, but the unsuspecting Bria’s, as well. And to succeed against the elementally powerful LaFleur, Gin is going to have to make more use of her own elemental magic more than she ever has before, a prospect fraught with its own emotional baggage.
Tangled Threads is perhaps the best entry yet in the Elemental Assassins series, and will leave fans hungry for the final conclusive battle between Gin and Mab Monroe. The book is full of characters that are easy to care about, rewarding exploration of emotional relationships, and, of course, plenty of spine-tingling (literally!) danger and action. In short, it’s the very best of everything we’ve come to expect from an Elemental Assassin book.