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The Curse Workers Trilogy by Holly Black: Review

July 9, 2012

Title: The Curse Workers Trilogy: White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Young Adult, Mystery, Noir


The gist: If that British show Hustle had magic but also illegal jazz hands.


Initial attraction: Holly Black, urban fantasy, crime families that sell illegal magic, con-artists, and mysteries – there is a lot to love here.


Cover art: There are two different cover styles for this series, but none of them quite match which is unfortunate because I like both sets. The original cover art features an iconic photograph style with a person and the object from the title. These are great but only available for the first two books, White Cat and Red Glove. The paperback versions offered illustrated iconic covers that are also quite nice and are available as a matching set, but I have a weakness for hardcovers. Point is, the covers are all nice but I wish the publisher had stuck with one style.


Summary: The first in a trilogy, this gritty, fast-paced fantasy is rife with the unexpected. Cassel comes from a shady, magical family of con artists and grifters. He doesn’t fit in at home or at school, so he’s used to feeling like an outsider. He’s also used to feeling guilty—he killed his best friend, Lila, years ago.
But when Cassel begins to have strange dreams about a white cat, and people around him are losing their memories, he starts to wonder what really happened to Lila. In his search for answers, he discovers a wicked plot for power that seems certain to succeed. But Cassel has other ideas— and a plan to con the con-men.

The best part: I love how Black writes a realistic, gritty underworld. That was one of my favorite things about her book Valiant and I was hesitant to read the Curse Workers Trilogy because I was afraid it couldn’t measure up. I am happy to report that this fear was completely unfounded. In fact, I am kicking myself for not reading it sooner. The bright side to this is that I got to read all three books in one shot which is awesome. In the Curse Workers stories the crime world is a classy mafia mobster type of underworld activity with lots of money and assassinations and fancy private schools and long cons pulled over on innocent and sometimes not-so-innocent people.

The worst part: I WANT MORE. This is one of those series I will re-read again and again, and the conclusion left room for a continued story. There was enough resolution to be satisfying, but still enough left unexplained that Black could probably weave another excellent story or 2 which would be totally just awesomely fine with me.

Characters: Cassel Sharpe is basically the perfect bad boy who’s really actually good. If you like con-artists with a heart of gold then Cassel is the main character for you. The story is told from his limited point of view and he is charming and kind with a good heart but he’s also a liar and a con-artist and a bookie, and well, he’s a lot of questionable things. He’s the bad boy you want to fall for because he’ll treat you right even when he’s doing wrong. Cassel’s family is interesting but not as endearing as Cassel, which is good because he can’t trust them. His mother is in jail and his brothers work for one of the mob families. The grandfather is cool, but he’s also a retired assassin SO THERE IS THAT.

Plot: The story is told as a mystery set up like a long con in which Cassel tries to figure out what is going on with his family and friends because he is in very real danger. Basically, it’s about a con-artist who has to out-con the other con-artists. I don’t want to discuss the plot too heavily because it’s a tightly woven mystery and I don’t want to spoiler it, but it’s a very good and satisfying plot.

Setting: The setting is sort of a parallel current-day New Jersey, except that some people can work magic through direct contact with another person’ through their hands. The curse worker’s have basically set up a mafia-style power scheme because it is illegal to be a curse worker, even though one is born that way. It’s basically the perfect setting for a cops and robbers mystery plot and the fantasy aspect just seals the deal of totally awesome. Black handles the details of a slightly different reality well with social customs that revolve around always wearing gloves in polite company and bare hands being thought of as weapons.

Writing style: I have nothing but love for Black’s style. That is a general rule for everything, basically if Holly Black works on a project it immediately goes on my list of things that need my attention. As a side note, I first received White Cat as a free audio book but I put off listening to it because I AM THE DUMB. I mean, I do like reading a series all at once without the wait in between, but this series is so good it hurts. I now have all 3 audio books which I have listened to about half a dozen times. The narrator, Jesse Eisenberg, does an amazing job (I also loved him in Zombieland) and I really can’t love on this series enough.

In which I babble: Throughout the narrative there are these bits of psychology and information about how criminals pull off cons that are peppered in with the story which really enhance the reading experience and add this level of realism that is very cool.

“Clever as the Devil and twice as pretty.” – White Cat

“No trouble ever got fixed late at night,” he said. “Midnight is for regrets.” – Red Glove

“Girls like her, my grandfather once warned me, girls like her turn into women with eyes like bullet holes and mouths made of knives. They are always restless. They are always hungry. They are bad news. They will drink you down like a shot of whisky. Falling in love with them is like falling down a flight of stairs. What no one told me, with all those warnings, is that even after you’ve fallen, even after you know how painful it is, you’d still get in line to do it again.” – Black Heart

“She wears trouble like a crown. If she ever falls in love, she’ll fall like a comet, burning the sky as she goes.” – Black Heart

“First love’s the sweetest, but it doesn’t last.” 
“Not ever?” I ask. Grandad looks at me with a seriousness he reserves for moments when he wants me to really pay attention. “When we fall that first time, we’re not really in love with the girl. We’re in love with being in love. We’ve got no idea what she’s really about—or what she’s capable of. We’re in love with our idea of her and of who we become around her. We’re idiots.”  – Black Heart

Other Reviews: Check out this review of White Cat from Forever Young Adult 

You might also like: The British TV show Hustle, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Welcome to Bordertown edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner

Additional books by author: The Modern Faerie Tales series: Tithe, Valiant (which is one of my favorite books ever and is a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast), and Ironside, and The Spiderwick Chronicles

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release date: White Cat May 2010, Red Glove April 2011, Black Heart April 2012
Purchase the books: White Cat,  Red Glove, Black Heart 



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