Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Review: Black Heart by Holly Black

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Black HeartBlack Heart by Holly Black (Margaret K. McElderry, 2012)

Blurb: Cassel Sharpe has the most deadly ability of all. With one touch, he can transform any object – including a person – into something else entirely. And that makes him a wanted man. The Feds are willing to forgive all his past crimes if he’ll only leave his con artist family behind and go straight. But why does going straight feel so crooked?

For one thing, it means being on the opposite side of the law from Lila, the girl he loves. She’s the daughter of a mob boss and getting ready to join the family business herself. Though Cassel is pretty sure she can never love him back, he can’t stop obsessing over her. Which would be bad enough, even if her father wasn’t keeping Cassel’s mother prisoner in a posh apartment and threatening not to let her leave until she returns the priceless diamond she scammed off him years ago. Too bad she can’t remember where she put it.

The Feds say they need Cassel to get rid of a powerful man who is spinning dangerously out of control. But if they want Cassel to use his unique talent to hurt people, what separates the good guys from the bad ones? Or is everyone just out to con him?

Time is running out, and all Cassel’s magic and cleverness might not be enough to save him. With no easy answers and no one he can trust, love might be the most dangerous gamble of all.

 

I think the Curseworkers may be my favorite YA urban fantasy series. The writing is crisp and witty, the story line is unique, the pacing is peppy, the characters are well-developed and realistic, and the world-building is superb. These are fantastic books and I can’t recommend them enough.

The first book, White Cat, was the story of Cassel’s self-discovery. Red Glove explored how he dealt with what he’d learned and tried to move forward, and Black Heart is all about Cassel taking control of his life. Romance is front and center in this book, which makes sense—he’s dealt with the fallout of his feelings without ever dealing with the relationship itself.

Over the course of the series, Cassel has grown from a naïve non-magic-worker to a cynical pawn in other people’s games: various crime families, the Feds. But he’s smart, and he’s spent his entire life learning how to run a con, and in this book the elements all come together for Cassel to finally run a con of his own. Once again Black managed to completely surprise me with her plotting. When I look back at the series I can see how she laid out off the elements and how everything fit together, but when I’m reading it, I’m not analyzing at all, I’m just enjoying the ride. That’s the mark of a good storycrafter.

 Black Heart is the third book in the series, and while it read as though it was the final book, I’ve seen a new, fourth book listed. I am curious as to whether this will be the further adventures of Cassel and Lila or the new adventures of a secondary character. Either way, it’s on my TBR list!

 

My rating: 4 stars

Review: Red Glove by Holly Black

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Red GloveRed Glove by Holly Black (Margaret K. McElderry, 2011)

Blurb: In Cassel Sharpe’s world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth — he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything — or anyone — into something else.

That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she’s human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila’s been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion-worker mom. And if Lila’s love is as phony as Cassel’s made-up memories, then he can’t believe anything she says or does.

When Cassel’s oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue — crime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too — they know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can’t trust anyone — least of all, himself?

Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.

White Cat is one of my favorite YA urban fantasy novels. In many ways, Red Glove seemed to have middle-child syndrome: while White Cat had the benefit of a relatively simple story (albeit one with a wonderfully twisty-turny plot), Red Glove introduces many new characters and a lot more action. It’s a lot more complex than the first book (White Cat), and it doesn’t have the same gut-punch twists and turns. But it does have more in-depth characterization and plotting–and something I consider important in YA: it doesn’t rely on stereotypes.

Cassel, the main character, continues to struggle with the morals and ethics of who he is–as a curse worker, as a member of a crime family, as a human being. He grew up believing he had no magical abilities and that he had killed the girl he loved, only to discover that neither of those is true. The girl he loves is right beside him—only Cassel’s mother, in an attempt to “help,” has put a love curse on Lila, so that her feelings for Cassel are as not-real as his are real. Cassel’s relationship with his brother Barron has improved, but there too, Barron’s memory has been so affected by blowback that nothing he says can be taken at face value. Luckily for Cassel, his friends Sam and Daneca continue to stand by him. Though they’re secondary characters, they’re witty and well-developed.

Definitely going to check out Black Heart to see how this ends.

My rating: 4 stars

Review: White Cat by Holly Black (Curseworkers #1)

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WhiteCatWhite Cat by Holly Black (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010)

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