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.

In the last book, Lila is cursed to love Cassel. They both know it's a curse, and sensibly flee in opposite directions. But Lila, despite knowing that her feelings were inflicted on her by an outside force, can't help feeling them. Her inner struggle is a lovely metaphor for the kind of love that makes no sense and drives you crazy, and yet you pursue it anyway.

Black is exploring the hard-line consent stance (which I subscribe to), which is that if someone's consent is impaired, like by roofies or a curse, and you know about it, having sex with them is rape. Even if they beg you for it.

Cassel tries to stay away from Lila, he tries not to take advantage of her, and finally, briefly, he fails. I'm not sure how I feel about the brick through the window while they're making out - it's a bit of a deus ex machina to prevent Cassel from going all the way and committing outright rape. I would have liked it better if he'd managed to hurl himself out of bed, realizing that next time he might give in.

And, of course, he ends up violating her free will anyway, by trying to have her cursed to not love him - well-meaning, but still without her consent. (And selfish - he could have had his own feelings for Lila removed instead.)

This ties in with Barron's casual altering of memories (his own and others), Cassel's mom's manipulation of everyone in her vicinity, and the admittedly deserved set-up of the anti-worker student and politician. Everyone has reasons, with varying levels of justification, for messing with everyone else, but it's generally not quite as justified as they think.

Overlaid with these issues of consent are questions of identity: is Lila really Lila if her emotions aren't self-generated? Is Cassel in love with her, or his memory of a girl who doesn't really exist any more? Is Cassel responsible for deeds he doesn't remember? And what an awful con that would be if, as was suggested, the way his brothers got Cassel to start killing people was to simply make him believe that he already had? The self-perceived identity creates itself, as people match their deeds to the identity they think they already have.

Finally, I absolutely loved the last twist, with Lila embracing her heritage.
coffeeandink: (Default)

From: [personal profile] coffeeandink

There is a really cool Lila short story up at Black's web site.

I can't believe I got to the end of the book without realizing the whole thing was a setup for a starcrossed cop/robber romance.
holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

From: [personal profile] holyschist

ginny_t: Give me rampant intellectualism as a coping mechanism. (rampant intellectualism)

From: [personal profile] ginny_t

I was quite horrified by the twist. I'm relieved to hear that I was supposed to be and that it wasn't the throwaway thing that it appeared to be. I might even check it out after all.
boundbooks: Zhang Ziyi (kitty goes :D)

From: [personal profile] boundbooks


sovay: (Morell: quizzical)

From: [personal profile] sovay

And what an awful con that would be if, as was suggested, the way his brothers got Cassel to start killing people was to simply make him believe that he already had?

Suddenly I want to double-feature this book with Dark City (1998) . . .

From: [identity profile]

entire comment, full of spoilers!

One thing I really liked—which also ties into the theme of consent—was the fact that we touched back on Philip's wife, whose name I can't put my finger on right now. (Maura?) She wasn't compelled to love him per se (or at least, I didn't interpret it that way; I interpreted it that Maura had loved him originally herself), but she was compelled to forget every time they had a fight. So her situation paralleled Lila's, in some ways: she was in a relationship she wouldn't have otherwise been in because someone messed with her head. The difference is that, unlike Cassel, the implication is that Philip was perfectly happy to have things that way, and asked Barron to do it or at least cooperated, vs. Cassel's mother putting the curse on Lila when Cassel didn't want her to do it.

So I was very satisfied to find out (as I had guessed) that she was the one to kill him. And her logic, that the only way she could be free was to kill him, was arguably literally true. (Well, she could've killed Barron, but then Philip would just have to find someone else—like, oh, his mother—to do something similar.)

I really, really liked that Daneca's one working was to make herself not love someone, rather than to make them love her. Completely in line with her character, and yet obviously not something that the people around her had even considered as a solution to their own, similar problems.

And what an awful con that would be if, as was suggested, the way his brothers got Cassel to start killing people was to simply make him believe that he already had?

It also ties neatly into his refusal to kill Lila. There's a big difference between "you've killed before, what's one more stranger?" and "you've killed before, now do it to your best friend/huge crush-object." They must've been getting overconfident. Or maybe just desperate and therefore sloppy.

From: [identity profile]

Re: entire comment, full of spoilers!

I agree, Maura really didn't have a lot of great options. Philip got what was coming to him.

The other parallel, which I can't believe I forgot to mention, with both Lila's worked emotions and Cassel being conned into killing simply by being convinced that he was already a killer, was Cassel forging Barron's diary to convince him that he loved Cassel and they had a good relationship. OUCH.

With the brothers trying to get Cassel to kill Lila, I think Philip was overconfident and desperate, and Barron had probably already lost enough of his own identity and memories of Cassel that it seemed reasonable. He might not have even remembered exactly what Cassel's relationship was with Lila.

This is probably a very personal reaction, but my single biggest "NO DON'T DO IT!" moment in a book filled with them was when Barron casually memory-wiped the waitress, erasing his own self even more for something so completely petty and unnecessary.

From: [identity profile]

Re: entire comment, full of spoilers!

Barron's total casualness at wiping memories horrified me—not even so much on behalf of the other people (although, yeah, that too, especially for things like what he did to Cassel, and Maura) as what it implied about himself. That waitress might be confused and/or get in trouble over it, but she's lost a few minutes. Barron is eating away his entire self... and doesn't even seem to care much.

I wonder if there was a tipping point at which he lost so much of his memories that he no longer remembers why he might want to have memories. Like, he doesn't even have enough personal history left to know what he's missing? (Or that he has to convince himself that it doesn't matter because he's lost so much that if he starts to care, it will be unbearable. Easier to not care, even if it makes it worse.)

(I also was fascinated by the parallel: what Cassel did with his notebooks was exactly what Barron was doing to everyone else—it's just that Barron had messed up his mind so much that he had to keep his memories in an external, analog format. And of course that made Cassel's forgery at once more horrible—he was screwing with Barron's only coping mechanism for having big holes in his memory—and less—at least he just screwed up Barron's "memories" enough to make him an affectionate pizza-eating brother; Barron made Cassel forget the very talent he so desperately wanted to have and made him kill people.)

From: [identity profile]

Re: entire comment, full of spoilers!

Yeah, I was not so concerned about the waitress, but at what Barron was doing to himself, and that he just didn't seem to care. Especially since your memories are your self to a large extent, at least as portrayed in the novel - Cassel gets memory-worked to think he's a killer, and he becomes a killer. Barron gets memories via forged diaries, and actually becomes a loving brother. The self is very fluid, a matter of memory and self-perception, not something inherent and constant.

Sort of. Cassel has much more of a moral compass than he ought to, under the circumstances. But since he's been worked and told and raised to believe that he's bad to the bone, he's way more willing to do bad stuff than he presumably would be had he been left to his own devices.

I do wonder what went down with Barron. I too think it's some version of "If I take this seriously or think about too much, it will be so horrible that I won't be able to go on living. So I just won't care at all."

Have to say, being a curse worker seems like it really sucks. Lost memories! Nightmares! Craziness! DEAD BODY PARTS. (What does physical work do? Just hurt? I guess that wouldn't be THAT bad, at least comparatively.)

From: [identity profile]

Re: entire comment, full of spoilers!

I can't remember what Philip's blowback was like.

Actually, even though it's the commonest and most-denigrated power (probably because it's common and comparatively intangible), I think I'd pick luck working if I had to pick. It's at least implied (and possibly stated outright?) that positive luck work has generally positive blowback, which seems win-win; it's just cursing someone with unluck that makes the curse worker unlucky as well.

It's also interesting to me that some powers seem to have positive/"good" uses, and others really don't. Luck work, sure. Dream work could be used to cause good dreams or prevent nightmares, I imagine (although the blowback would still be sucky). Emotion work is more iffy, because it's inherently manipulative, and ditto memory work, although I could see someone making the informed decision that they wanted to be forcibly calmed down or forget something horrifying. (Or, well, deciding they wanted a dose of euphoria, although it's implied that that's addictive and therefore pretty bad too.) Physical work... I have no idea if you can use it to heal, or just to break legs. And death work, well.

From: [identity profile]

Re: entire comment, full of spoilers!

I looked it up. Physical work briefly makes you weak and sickly. (Could be worse.) No word on whether it could be used in a positive manner.

And yes, giving people good luck makes you lucky. That's the one to have!

From: [identity profile]

Re: entire comment, full of spoilers!

I wish to express extreme love for this whole conversation. I love Barron, for reasons that are mysterious even to myself but which are possibly much to do with how interesting I think his situation and the things he does and which are done to him are, and I have not seen thinky thoughts about him before.

(Also I chime in on the actual post and how pleased I was that the Love Potion trope, which I just saw in two other books presented as not that problematic, is treated as the hideous huge problematic mess it should be.)

From: (Anonymous)

re: bad & good curses & workers

Great point about the type of ability naturally going to the more sinister workers - especially if we apply the discussion of our concept of self and how much it is tied into our perception of self. As implied in the books vis a vis Worker's Rights, is the nefarious nature of the workers because they are themselves morally questionable, or is it the working and the environment of illegality?

Take Cassel's grandfather for example. As a death worker, that makes him the vilest kind if worker, right? Yet he is the only trustworthy, truly kind and loving member of Cassel's family (at least towards Cassel and his friends). He cares about his family in a way that Mom, Barron, and Philip don't but like Cassel does. But he killed people for a living willingly- or was he made to because he was a death worker, and that is what death workers do?

From: [identity profile]

Re: bad & good curses & workers

I tend to assume it's because working is automatically illegal, much as drug use is associated with far more crime (other than the legality/illegality of the drugs themselves) in areas where it's illegal.

Death work is just the ability to kill someone. Police have that too, in a holster at their sides. They rarely have to actually fire their weapons; the knowledge that they can is usually sufficient. Civilians also keep guns they may never use, for protection. Similarly, a death worker might never use their power, or might make more productive use of it if they were legally allowed to (mostly as a deterrent.)

I assume Cassel's grandfather would not have been a hitman in a million years had he not been born into a society that automatically slotted him into that role.

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