rachelmanija: (Books: old)
rachelmanija ([personal profile] rachelmanija) wrote2012-05-01 11:07 am

Black Heart, by Holly Black

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.

I had mixed feelings about the big misunderstanding plot between Lila and Cassel. I had expected her to be angry that he hadn't tried hard enough to stay away from her when she was cursed to love him, not that she assumed that he had stayed away because he didn't love her. It was more well-supported than most misunderstandings of that nature, but I bought it more from Cassel than from Lila, who had previously seemed more knowing.

The blackmail plot at school wasn't very well integrated into the rest of the story. I think it would have worked better if the girl had been put up to it due to something involving the larger plot, not that she just randomly came up with this incredibly and unnecessarily elaborate plot and then decided to involve Cassel in it. It was also just so, so complicated. (Why not simply tell Cassel she was being blackmailed and needed help?) I did, however, absolutely love the payoff, in which Cassel gives a gun and a choice. I also adored the gold-toothed deathworker with the sentimental-value gun, and would have happily read more about him and less about the blackmail thing.

I loved the ending. It seemed so right and in-character for Cassel and Lila - a happy ever after (for now) that felt tonally appropriate to the rest of the book. By the end of the series, I was completely invested in seeing those two crazy kids get to ride off into the sunset together, and that's exactly what I got. Given all the complications and obstacles, the loose ends and lack of a promised ever after were what sold me on the happiness.
ambyr: pebbles arranged in a spiral on sand (nature sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy) (Pebbles)

[personal profile] ambyr 2012-05-01 06:49 pm (UTC)(link)
I probably need to reread the series to see if there's actually textual support for this or if it's just my own narrative preferences biasing my view, but I read Lila as knowing to the point where I think her anger is at least part a show, a con. It's very hard to tell how much she actually reciprocates Cassel's feelings, versus how much she's making use of the fact that those feelings give her a convenient means of control over the world's most powerful magic user. I tend to think there's a bit of both; that she's genuinely fond of him but also aware that it would be advantageous to play that role whether or not it was true. (Part of me half-wonders if the Zakharovs deliberately set up the situation with Agent Jones as a way to engineer Cassel's gratitude.)

But like I said, that could just be because I prefer my fictional relationships twisty and not entirely healthy.
ambyr: pebbles arranged in a spiral on sand (nature sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy) (Pebbles)

[personal profile] ambyr 2012-05-01 07:38 pm (UTC)(link)
Yeah, I don't know. Maybe she needed some space while she put other plots into motion.

This is a series that really cries out for fanfic, I think. When dreams and memories and emotions are all fluid and subject to change from an outside force, there's really no limit to the interpretations you can make.
ambyr: a penguin riding a camel through the desert, captioned, "life is an adventure" (digital painting by Ursula Vernon) (Adventure)

[personal profile] ambyr 2012-05-01 07:52 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, there's always next year! I do like the one piece of fic that currently exists on AO3, but one is never enough.

[identity profile] thecityofdis.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:23 pm (UTC)(link)
I just read this a few weeks ago and loved it! Your thoughts pretty much mirror my own, including the A+ ending.

Also, Lila Zacharov is a boss and I would happily read a modern-day epic of Gilgamesh proportions about her basically frolicking around killing things and stirring the pot. I kind of love her a lot.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:39 pm (UTC)(link)
I adore Lila. I was so delighted when she got her scar necklace at the end of Red Glove.

[identity profile] thecityofdis.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:40 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes! I also loved that she got to be more present in this book, instead of the memories and impressions of Cassel, you know? Like, it made perfect sense for the earlier books but pretty much the entire time I was like, I want to see this girl DOING stuff. And I got it.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes! And she was every bit as terrifying I had imagined.

You read the 13-scene short story Holly wrote about her, right?

[identity profile] thecityofdis.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:42 pm (UTC)(link)
No!! I tend to be short-story deficient, in that I rarely realize they exist and have read maybe ten, ever.

Do you happen to have a link, by any chance?

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Well, this is frustrating. The link is down, and wayback isn't accessing it either. Grr!

It used to be here: http://thecurseworkers.com/13pieces/

[identity profile] thecityofdis.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:50 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh no! Maybe I'll ask her if she has them up anywhere when I get home tonight.

I appreciate the attempt. :)

[identity profile] ambyr.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:53 pm (UTC)(link)
I asked her about it a week or two ago, and she said the publishers had made some changes to the website that had broken it but that she was working on getting them to put the story back up.

[identity profile] thecityofdis.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, good to know - thanks! (Ha, I just asked her too. Impatience will be my downfall!)

[identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:26 pm (UTC)(link)
I absolutely agree about the blackmail plot. When it got rolling, I was yelling at Cassel for being too stupid to realize there was no blackmail and he was being set up for some larger purpose having to do with the main plot . . . only it turned out I was wrong, and I was very disappointed.

The ending didn't work as well for me, but I think that's because I'm temperamentally unsuited to that kind of resolution. His situation with Lila is all kinds of messed-up, and I don't believe it will end well for them. To be fair, I don't think Cassel believes it will end well, either -- but I can't get much satisfaction out of it.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 07:39 pm (UTC)(link)
I just wanted Lila and Cassel to be together and happy, regardless of how screwed up and temporary that might be, so the "happy ever after until DOOM" was fine with me because they were satisfied with what they got. Cassel is kind of self-destructive and masochistic and Lila is one scary woman, so whatever pleased them both was bound to be all kinds of fucked up.

[identity profile] swan-tower.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 09:26 pm (UTC)(link)
so whatever pleased them both was bound to be all kinds of fucked up.

Oh, no doubt. It just isn't my kind of thing, as much.

[identity profile] tool-of-satan.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 09:21 pm (UTC)(link)
No comment on the book as I haven't read this series (yet), but I am glad to see you have not been crushed under a pile of psych readings or something.

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com 2012-05-01 10:02 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm only mostly crushed under a pile of psych readings.