The last installment of The Snow Queen Cycle by Joan D. Vinge, Tangled Up in Blue is a novel parallel in time to the first book, The Snow Queen. I think of such novels as “Meanwhile. . .” books. We’re back in the capital city on the planet Tiamat, and the malicious Snow Queen still rules. The main character is beloved BZ Gundhalinu, who plays a leading role in all the novels. At this point, he’s a new police officer fresh from his home, Kharemough, a planet divided by classes that values loyalty and honor above all else. He tries to make his black-and-white values fit into police work, but he’s often behind a desk and not facing the gray scale that is real life. Until he meets Nyx LaisTree.
Nyx LaisTree from the planet Newhaven. Interestingly, the police service is a conglomerate that has jurisdiction over eight planets, but almost all police are from Newhaven. Thus, they can be fairly prejudiced against people on Tiamat, the most primitive planet in the bunch. Under the Snow Queen, the capital is a fairly lawless place, so when a group of police officers, including LaisTree and his brother, start vandalizing technology, they get away with it. That is, until they are in the wrong place at the wrong time and are massacred. All except LaisTree, whose heart has to be restarted three times he so near death.
The story leans toward a sci-fi detective novel, revolving around figuring out who the murderers are, LaisTree’s grief, and Gundhalinu learning that honor and loyalty are valued on his home planet — but they’re not guaranteed traits. They receive help from Devony, a native of Tiamat who delivers gossip to the Snow Queen while she is with “clients.” That is, she’s a prostitute. Her pimp invested in her, purchasing a “sensenet” at enormous cost, which allows her to completely shape shift to look like any person. Being able to change into any man’s fantasy makes her a fancy prostitute, and fortunately she follows the cliche of having a heart of gold.
Early on, I wasn’t sure if liked this novel. It’s paired way down to focus on a smaller event, whereas in The Summer Queen they were fighting against the complete colonization of planet Tiamat. I’d already done a huge journey across three novels, two of them massive, with Gundhalinu, so it was awkward to see him as a total stubborn newbie. But as characters I knew popped in and out — Jerusha PalaThion, a minor character in all four books; Mundilfoere from The Summer Queen; Fate Ravenglass from The Snow Queen — I felt more comfortable and connected. Several Goodreads reviews note folks can skip this novel, and they can. Though, there is a loose connection to how Reed Kullervo, from The Summer Queen, unwittingly becomes a genius in his early twenties.
Even though it’s not a necessary addition to the series and readers may not enjoy going back to the beginning timeline-wise, Tangled Up in Blue is a good, fun science fiction buddy-cop sort of story.