rachelmanija: (Bleach: Parakeet of DOOM)
( Sep. 7th, 2010 11:17 am)
I spent the weekend attending [personal profile] coraa and [profile] jmpava's wedding, which was lovely and moving, and was the first wedding I have ever been to which featured a jaguar and an owl. (It was at the Seattle zoo.) I also got to meet [personal profile] faithhopetricks and her husband T and their cats, which was wonderful - I think she is the LJ friend I have up till now known longest and best without actually meeting.

However, I am here to tell you about dangerous jam.

As a wedding present, I carefully put together and gift-wrapped a box of local, artisinal Los Angeles foods, including a jar of golden raspberry jam. At LAX, I was pulled from the line due to jam. Over my protests, the box was unwrapped and searched.

"Can't you just check it for explosives?" I asked. "It's jam!"

"I know it's jam," said the unruffled security guy. "It already passed the explosive test. But you're not allowed to bring more than three ounces of gels onboard, and that's five ounces." (Or something.)

I am going to try to keep the security ranting to a minimum in this post, but I just want to highlight the utter Orwellian idiocy of knowing that a substance is harmless, but refusing to let it onboard due to security theatre - regulations which everyone involved knows are pointless and have nothing to do with safety, but are just there because once a rule is enacted, it becomes impossible to ever roll back. And therefore jam is forever banned from airlines - but only medium to large jars! Small jars of the same jam are totally okay!

Fuming, I re-wrapped the box and was sent back to check my suitcase. The airline charged me $20 to check my one piece of checked luggage, containing my deadly jam.

When I arrived in Seattle, I opened my suitcase. A paper fluttered out, informing me that my suitcase had been selected for more searching. The wrapping paper had once again been ripped off my box of terrifying jam, and my underwear had been stolen.

I should note that these were not fancy, fetishy, or even expensive panties. They were boring, basic, cotton, totally unsexy panties purchased at Target. Fuming again, I borrowed wrapping paper, wrapped the box for the third time, and got a friend of the bride to drive me to Target to buy more underwear. I am convinced that some creepy security guy has a Criminal Minds-esque room completely wallpapered with stolen underwear.

It was then that I opened my purse to get out my wallet to buy my replacement underwear. In the side pocket in which I keep my wallet, there were two items which I had forgotten were there and which I had been allowed to carry aboard the plane: a miniature pry bar (a banned tool, not obviously dangerous but which I could certainly use to hurt someone in a pinch) and a straight edge - a long razor blade set into a folding handle, only differing from the box-cutters of 9/11 infamy in that my razor blade was about twice as long as the standard box-cutter.

But hey! At least they managed to prevent me from getting anyone's hair sticky with jam.
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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