Returning her focus to the planet Tiamat at the end of the Snow Queen's reign, Joan D. Vinge provides a bittersweet vignette of pain, loss, vengeance and recovery that will no doubt leave many loyal readers ecstatic that they are allowed to glimpse some of their favorite characters in action again, while simultaneously saddened that the trip is over all-too-quickly after such a long wait.
A group of the cops (known as Blues for their uniforms) that serve as the peacekeepers between the Tiamatan natives and the offworlders have turned vigilante -- the only method left to them for serving justice while their official capacity is left impotent by the local politics. Their actions land them in the middle of a literal crossfire between two warring factions of a secret society, and the criminal underworld manipulated by the Snow Queen herself. Two survivors from different elements of the bloody massacre, Patrolman Nyx LaisTree and Sergeant BZ Gundhalinu (!), must come to grips with their far-reaching political and societal differences in order to solve the mystery of exactly who the other participants in the slaughter were, and what they were after. The story follows them on their journey through the spectrum of grey that is life in the criminal underworld of the city of Carbuncle.
"Tangled Up In Blue" is an expertly solid retelling of vice cop drama set in the lavish reality that Vinge created over the course of the original epic. The brilliant rookie officer from high society, our young Sergeant Gundhalinu from the original stories, must begin to apply his theories of justice to the realities of law enforcement. The more weathered beat cop with a tragic past, Tree, plays the loose cannon as he goes on a regulations-be-damned trip through the seedy side of Carbuncle to determine who is responsible for the death of his older brother. While running headlong down his suicidal path, Tree also finds himself under the spell of the wildly attractive Devony Seaward, a shapeshifting, prostituting informant for the Snow Queen. The questions become: Is it remotely possible Dev has fallen for Tree as well? Can these loners overcome their hardened fears and distrust and bridge the gaps between them? Will they even survive the climactic fray?
While some readers may argue that not much new ground is covered in terms of the basic elements of noir storytelling, it must be argued that Vinge is a mistress of playing the heartstrings to full effect. There is something to be said for taking a formula and executing on it so well.
The feel of the book is a particularly enjoyable blend of the lonely desperation and longing that permeated the mood of the second installment in the Hegemony books, "World's End," and the grittiness of the Cat stories, set in another of Vinge's realities. Readers who are familiar with the previous books in the "Snow Queen" cycle will be more than rewarded with a solid taste of the same magnitude of emotional undercurrents that were so prevalent in those books -- despite the shorter nature of this story.
While this is more or less a complete storyline that transpires early in the overall chronology (contained entirely in the space between a couple of the opening chapters of the first novel, in fact) first-time visitors to the Hegemony should reconsider before beginning here. The layers of political intrigue are peeled back so deftly in the previous books, and the timings of those revelations are chosen with such great effect, that it would be a shame to read this first and see what cards everyone is holding so early in the game. Also, new readers may find themselves overwhelmed by the several brief but dense explanations of the greater forces at play. It wouldn't do if a reader's attention was to wane whilst attempting to keep track of the political background to the tale, merely chalking the story's scope up to "the bad guys versus the less-bad-guys." The format is exactly what it needs to be, however, in allowing returning readers a refresher without having to break out the older books.
Furthermore, the exquisite warmth (or dread) provoked by cameos of certain original supporting characters will also be lost to the new reader. And it would be something of a small tragedy if even one of these were not appreciated -- even if it were something as atmospheric as a half-sentence allowing us to glimpse in passing a youth on a streetcorner playing his flute.
On a personal note, I was introduced to "The Snow Queen" at just the right time in my younger days, and it left an indelible impression on me and my outlook on life and relationships. Years and years later, they still hold a most special place in my heart and serve as a bond between myself and my closest friend. Thank you, Mrs. Vinge, for allowing us to visit Tiamat again. Here's to hoping that we might make another trip back someday...
Warmest Regards, Gray G. Haddock email@example.com