Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they’re all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn’t got the magic touch, so he’s an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.
Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He’s noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories.
Discovery: Strong buzz on book blogs. I’ve already read Holly Black’s Faerie series and thought they were amazing pieces of writing. However, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about this particular series, since the subject matter wasn’t my usual fare.
+ Four-dimensional protagonist. A story this morally and emotionally complicated can only be carried by an equally complicated and strong character. Cassel Sharpe is the perfect focus. His weaknesses are understandable, his fears familiar. Cassel is living on the very edge of a world that he wants to understand, but is afraid to live in. It’s very easy for any reader to follow his journey.
+ Unexpected settings. As a former Philadelphia girl, I am very amused by how the story is set in the affluent neighborhoods of New Jersey. I love that Holly Black plays with so many cliches and predictable plots, not the least of which is a boarding school.
+ Supporting characters. Lila is a mysterious character, always on Cassel’s mind, but never truly understood. Mama Sharpe is like a tiger, beautiful but dangerous. Philip and Barron are unexpectedly complex, rewarding the reader who keeps going. Sam and Daneca are brilliant friends for Cassel, never letting him get too cocky and caring about his welfare in a way that his family never has. And Grandpa Singer? I wouldn’t mind having him for a grandfather. Each character represents a different aspect of Cassel that he has to come to terms with, and each one brings a different dimension to the game of magic.
+ Ethics and morality. Don’t get me wrong, Black is not trying to shove a politically correct dogma down her readers’ throats. But in a world where magic can be used to get exactly what you want, questions are unavoidable. Cassel struggles with doing the right thing, while everyone around him has the means to fulfill their every desire. Is the power worth the blowback? Can a curse ever truly be justified?
– Abrupt transitions. While the fast pace of the novel is right for the story, I was thrown off by a lot of the abrupt changes in scene that Black employs.
Recommendations: One of the rare YA novels that can and does appeal to both girls and guys, even adults will enjoy this fast ride through the world of mobsters and curses. The ethical dilemma posed in the series is one worth considering past the last page.
Next review: Red Glove, Holly Black