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 don’t know why it took me so long to read this one. I loved The Modern Faerie Tales, and my mom actually bought this one for me for Christmas 2010. And, just as I knew would happen, I blew through this one in three days. The only reason it wasn’t one day is because I had to work and go to class on Thursday. Cassel intrigues me, and absolutely none of you are surprised by that, given my male narrator fetish. Cassel is good in a sea of bad, or if not bad then surely corrupt, and he harbors that huge guilt about Lila. He’s the only member of his family who isn’t a “worker.” Cassel doesn’t seem to have any magic. He also has a sweet last name: Sharpe. As we learn about him in the first quarter, we learn his mother is in prison, his grandfather is a “deathworker,” Cassel grew up in a house that belongs in an episode of Hoarders, and, oh yeah, he killed his best friend, Lila. (There are also feral cats in his barn, and nothing catches my attention faster than CATS.) I have to admit to one tiny quibble: Cassel doesn’t sound like a guy to me. His inner voice sounds a lot like Val from The Modern Faerie Tales for whatever reason. That won’t really stop or even impede me, however.
The first half of this novel is basically setting up the Worker world. We learn about different workers, different curses, charms, even the illegality of some things workers can do. We learn Cassel’s mother is in prison for working someone. We learn no one tells Cassle anything because he has no worker skills. He could easily report his family’s mob-like goings on with the police, but he doesn’t. We also learn that his family has been lying to him, and one discovery changes everything he thought was true about himself and his life. One thing I noticed is that Cassel is like most of his YA peers in that he constantly interrupts older and wiser people (who could give him solid information he needs) to ask dumb crap that will mean nothing in the end. I don’t hold this against him though. He’s just following the formula. I was also half nervous, half amused by this cat Cassel thinks is Lila. I felt really sorry for the kitty when we found out Barron had been keeping her in a tiny, dirty cage, but I was highly amused that Cassel kept her around.
I, for one, was not expecting the twist, but then again, most foreshadowing goes over my head. I felt like there were at least three big reveals and I only saw one coming. I liked this one, with it’s alternate universe and history, and its different morality and conflicts. I like how Black draws parallels between worker prejudice and racism today. I’m sort of horrified by all that’s happened, especially at the end of the book, but that just means I need to get on to reading Red Glove immediately! It looks as though my love affair with Holly Black will continue going strong!