TANGLED WEB is a collection of tropes I can't stand, and yet I devoured this book, reading huge chunks of it at once. Yes, I may have rolled my eyes a little or sneered, but did that mean I put the book down? NOPE. Not once. I read this sucker to the very end.
Azurha was raped and abused until she decided to herself "no more!" and slit her master's throat while he was sleeping. Then she ran away from his household, only to meet up with an assassin who was planning to off her odious rapist himself. He decided to train Azurha to become an assassin as well, and become The Rabbit, one of the most feared assassins in the land. This made me snort, because deadly rabbits? One can only think of this.
Since the Deizian emperor has just died, that leaves his son, Titus, as heir. Titus is a bookish scholar-cum-philosopher, and has a lot of really grand and revolutionary ideas for changing the empire. Ideas that a lot of important people are really offended about. That's how Azurha ends up in his acquaintance - one of the men who wants Titus out of the way gives her to Titus as a concubine for his harem, assuming that her pretty face will blind him to her deadly ways.
Unfortunately, it's lust at first sight, and Azurha decides that she can't kill him because reasons. Lots of sex ensues. I was honestly surprised - I knew this was supposed to be erotic, but I didn't expect the hero and the heroine to go at it like, err, rabbits (:D) for, like, 70% of the book. But they did. And I wasn't mad at this. Even though some of the passages are worthy of a Bertrice Small novel, I found myself enjoying the interactions between them. They had good chemistry, and McHugh does her best to make each encounter unique, so that nothing gets stale. I appreciated that effort on her part.
As usual, though, the court intrigue was my favorite part of this book. I love it when story lines play a game of thrones, and the environment McHugh created for Titus, where everyone is either out to get him, out to use him, or else just waiting for him to fail, was really quite well done. You see, the Deizians were actually aliens(!) who took over this planet because it worked for them. They oppressed the natives on the planets - the Elymanians and the Alpirions, and the "Barbarians" - turning them into slaves, because they could; they have magic, and nobody else does, neener-neener. There's a lot of classism and general snobbery, and while the world and the names borrow heavily from Ancient Rome, it's got a magic steam-punk vibe too, with magic-access panels & doors, and flying air ships, and a coliseum where soldiers fight to the death.
Even though this book has more cheese in it than the state of Wisconsin, this was a guilty pleasure read for me and it was a ton of fun, exactly what my brain needed after hours of writing essays and studying. I think fans of THRONE OF GLASS or POISON STUDY will like this book a lot, because the premise is very similar. The writing is not as polished as it could be, but that adds to the book's charm in a way. It really did feel like a fantasy bodice ripper.
2.5 to 3 out of 5 stars.