Blurb: 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 criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, 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.
Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself 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. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
I picked up this book for three reasons: The cover is gorgeous; everyone I know has raved about this series; and I wanted to read an urban fantasy series with a main character who was a boy. There are tons of UF novels out there with female protagonists, and I was intrigued by this character: a boy who is not a magic-worker. I also like the premise: crime families and the government competing to recruit anyone who can use magic in a world where it’s illegal for magic-workers to use their abilities. It’s different.
This is a difficult book to review because to discuss the plot is to give too much away. The plotting is fantastic. All kinds of things happened that I didn’t see coming, and that’s pretty unusual. The book is filled with twists and turns that are all completely organic to the story and yet completely unpredictable.
The world-building is top-notch. Black has a knack for explaining things without sounding like she’s explaining them, so Cassel effortlessly conveys to the reader the range of abilities held by the various magic-workers, as well as the main disincentive for using those abilities: blowback. Every time a magic-user works a curse, something is taken from them in return. A memory worker’s memory is affected. A physical worker’s body is affected. I didn’t even want to consider what would happen to a death worker.
The characters are all believable, with witty dialogue and realistic everyday lives, given the context. Their flaws and motivations give them depth and give the undercurrent of intrigue and betrayal that much more impact. I’m hoping the author is able to sustain that suspense and unpredictability through the next two books, because this first book is fantastic.
My Rating: 4 stars