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.

The third and concluding book of Holly Black's Curseworkers trilogy. The series is noir contemporary fantasy in a world in which magic is illegal, and so ends up controlled by organized crime. It's slick but heartfelt, an unusual combination. The first book in particular has a lot of very clever fairytale references, while the second digs into and deconstructs the trope of soulbonding and other forms of magically induced love. It's not very much like Black's other books stylistically, and I would recommend it even if you're not a fan of those. (That may go in the other direction as well.)

There is very little I can say about this volume that is not spoilery, other than that I enjoyed it a lot, despite some missteps, and the conclusion was enormously satisfying.

Black Heart

Click only if you've already read the book.

Spoilers indulge in elaborate blackmail plots )
There is very little I can say above a cut about this excellent YA fantasy, which is mostly about the consequences of the startling plot twist at the end of the first book, other than that I enjoyed it very much. The story continues to be gripping, disturbing without being grim or depressing, lively, and thoughtful.

But I did want to give a heads-up that the theme of the book is primarily consent, both sexual and non-sexual, (and secondarily, I would say, identity), so if that may be disturbing, well, now you know. It does not contain anything that I would classify as rape, but on the other hand, since the whole book is about consent issues, others might draw the line elsewhere. If you've read the first book, you can undoubtedly figure out what I'm referring to. Basically, Black takes a plot trope which I've seen about a million times before, and explores the potentially very dark indeed implications at length.

I don't want to make it sound tract-like - it's basically a fantasy mystery-thriller with a very twisted central romance. It's a lot of fun to read. But it's also got some interesting issues driving the plot.

Red Glove (Curse Workers, Book 2)

Giant spoilers below cut. The link above goes to Amazon.

Read more... )
This was one of the most enjoyable YA fantasies I’ve read all year. I’m surprised that I haven’t seen more discussion of it.

In this version of our world, about one in a thousand people have the ability to inflict various curses or blessings with the touch of their bare hand on another person’s skin. Curse work has been illegal in America since Prohibition, and consequently is largely controlled by organized crime; another result is that people wear gloves virtually at all times unless they really, really trust the person they’re with. At first I thought that curse workers were sufficiently rare that it seemed unlikely for everyone to wear gloves, but then considered all the precautions people and societies take to avoid becoming victims of terrorists, and decided it was quite sufficiently plausible.

Teenage Cassel was brought up in a family of curse workers and small-time con artists – his mother makes men fall in love with her and takes them for all they’re worth, and his grandfather is a retired deathworker who’s lost most of the fingers on one hand from “blowback” – the way that curses bounce back on their workers, in this case by killing small parts of their bodies. Cassel has internalized the truisms and worldview of career con artists and criminals, and rarely considers a simple or honest plan when a complicated con would do.

Three years ago, he woke up standing with a bloody knife over the body of the teenage girl he loved, with no memory of killing her or even why he might have wanted to; now he’s sleepwalking on to the roof of his dorm, haunted by deeds he can’t remember and dreams he doesn’t understand.

While I could predict the general outlines of the story, the way it played out was extremely satisfying and the smaller twists and turns were much harder to foresee. Similarly, while the outline of the premise (magic is illegal) has been done before, the way in which this is worked out is clever and original. The con artist mindset is very well-done, and the characters, while not always likable, are interesting and believable. (I did like Cassel, his teenage friends, and his grandfather.)

While some of Holly Black’s other books have been a bit self-consciously dark and gritty, this one was dark in conception but bright in reading. From the smooth, page-turning quality of the prose to the cool magic system to the convincing world of small-time crime, everything fits together as perfectly as a well-planned con.

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1)

Spoilers touch skin to skin )
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