White Cat — Cassel Sharpe uncovers a plot planned by his brothers that involve him, the head of a mob family, and Lila, the girl he killed three years ago.
Red Glove — Cassel Sharpe returns to Wallingford as a normal student . . . until the Feds show up with some disturbing news involving his brother Philip.
Black Heart — Cassel Sharpe, having caught the interest of both the mob and the government, must choose which side he wants to spend his life working for.
There are several things I love about this series, and I will discuss each of them in full here. Starting with Cassel.
Cassel Sharpe —
This kid. This kid. I love this kid. As his grandfather said, “Clever as the devil and twice as pretty.” He’s got a crooked smile for that crooked soul of his– he should know, he practices in the mirror.
His simplistic narration drives the story forward in a way the reader won’t notice. The mood of the scene is dependent on his word choice, and it is so carefully crafted that the reader feels his stress, their stomach curls with Cassel’s, their body temperature rises when he’s making out with his love interest. I love how he’s conscious of his dumb decisions and he makes them anyway. But most of all, I love how he is neither strictly good or strictly bad.
In the third book, Cassel struggles with this good vs. bad duality as seen with the book’s Big Choice. Should Cassel turn on his family, who had been involved with the mob for generations, to go straight and work for the Feds? Or should he work for the mob where he would be treated like royalty? If you pay attention, you can see him struggle with the same ideals throughout the books.
Holly Black gets kudos for making Cassel non-white. This isn’t an explicit detail in Cassel’s description, but he describes his skin color as fairly dark without saying where his family is originally from. In fact, his family’s origins are up in the air–his great-grandfather who had immigrated to the United States told a lot of stories.
World Building —
There are two things I love about this: the actual world and it’s portrayal.
I didn’t make it clear in my synopses, but the Curse Workers Trilogy is an urban fantasy mob story. The fantasy aspect comes from workers, select individuals with power in one of seven areas: dream, emotion, physical, memory, luck, death, and transformation. With a single touch, a memory worker can make you forget the exact sum you owe them; a dream worker can give you regular nightmares, an emotion worker can make you fall in love with anyone. Not all of these are fatal, but they can be. A dream worker can make you sleepwalk off the edge of a building, for instance. Working is a dangerous pastime in this world, which is why workers are typically involved with the mob. In the story, gloves are the protection against working–everyone is required to wear them and people flip out you walk around in public with bare hands.
Cassel does a fantastic job immersing the reader into this world. He talks about his family doesn’t wear gloves in their homes because “families should be able to trust each other.” When he’s sitting in an interrogation room with a couple federal agents, he feels vulnerable despite being gloveless. The reader is subtly reminded about gloves throughout the story when Cassel describes the color of his friend’s gloves or draws attention to amulets that protect against working.
There is also a lot of background noise that portrays the world and gives it a more real edge. The biggest instance is the political drama happening behind-the-scenes regarding a certain proposition in New Jersey. We’re given most of this information through Daneca, Cassel’s friend who comes from a privileged family but fights for the rights of those who live otherwise.
Awesome characterization isn’t limited to Cassel. We can all name someone in our lives similar to Daneca mentioned earlier. The same goes for Sam, Cassel’s roommate who loves slasher films and special effects. We don’t see much of Philip after the first book, but we do see a lot of Barron and how he changes from following orders in Book 1 to accepting the life his little brother conned him into in Book 3. Nothing is directly stated, and I love that about this series.
The Curse Workers Trilogy is fantastic. Seriously, go read it. You won’t be disappointed.