Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Curse Workers by Holly Black (series review)

Check out my review after the jump!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars, bloody brilliant
Source: White Cat - bought for Kindle, Red Glove and Black Heart both borrowed from local library

I'm a little late to the Holly Black party. Lately there's been a lot of buzz around her latest book The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and whilst it looks awesome, I decided to go a little further back and try out her Curse Workers Trilogy – White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart. I finished them last night and I can definitely say that I want to be first in line for the VIP area at the next Holly Black Party you organise OK? What the hell, I might just throw one myself.

White Cat starts with an almighty BANG as Cassel Sharpe, our narrator, wakes up on the roof of his school with no idea of how he got there, or how to get down. From then on you're thrown into the world of Curse Workers – people with magical powers, powers which have been outlawed by the government, making anyone who practises, or even knows that they're a curse worker (because how would you know if you haven't tried?), a criminal. This climate of fear and distrust has created a criminal underworld of curse worker mafia-like families, who trade in threats, intimidation, and curses. Cassel is the only non-curseworker in his family, but as his family are all con artists he's not grown up entirely innocent either. He even runs a betting operation at his boarding school, because how else is he supposed to pay for all the extras you need when you're hanging out with rich kids? Cassel is clearly no angel, and he could be even worse, as he freely admits from the off that he killed a girl when he was fourteen, his best friend Lila. 

The tangled threads of that murder, his sleepwalking, his family, run all the way through all three of these books, and keep reverberating. The plotting is a work of art, just when you think everything has been tied up with a neat little bow, Black swoops in and cuts all the strings. 

Some of my favourite literary elements are woven in too, but with a neat little twist. I love magic and fantasy, but this series looks at the dark side of magic, peeling away the wonderment and revealing the darkness behind. In some way this is very obvious, instead of magic the power that workers wield is called 'curses'. They are not magicians or wizards, but curseworkers. More subtly, as Newton's third law of motion says, for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction, for curse workers this is just as true, every time they use their power, they experience “blowback”. Cassel's Grandfather, a death worker, lost a finger each time he killed someone with his power, a physical reminder of the lives he took. I loved the depth these consequences brought to the story, showing how every action you take has a reaction somewhere else, no-one exists in a vacuum. I think when we're young it's easy to think we're alone, protected and isolated from the world, in fact the opposite is true. 

Cassel is in the process learning this, he has taken himself off to boarding school to escape his family, to avoid getting sucked in to the criminal underworld they all inhabit. He quickly learns however that it's not that easy, and he can't just stand idly by, or attempt to be somebody he's not in order to fit in. Instead he has to act. Even if he regrets his actions later, at least he chose to make them. His character development is flawless, even as he grows and changes, his slate is never wiped clean, and you never get the impression he has absolved himself of past crimes, so you're free never to absolve him either. That doesn't mean you don't like him though, he is flawed yes, but that just makes him more human. Black repeats this trick with the secondary characters, who are fleshed out and whole, special shout out to Deneca and Sam – particularly their endings. You have no idea how much I want to tell you about it, but it's better you discover it for yourself!

Black definitely has a way with language that perfectly matches the brooding tone of the novel, although there were maybe a few too similes for me. You can only use so many before you start sounding like a Taylor Swift song (not necessarily a bad thing – especially if it's Trouble). There are also just so many cool plot points that I find fascinating like mafia families and how to run a con. It's obvious that Black spent a lot of time researching, adding in touches of reality that make the whole story more believable, the mark of an amazing fantasy novel for me. Even the politics element rings true, considering what society does to people on the fringes already, the idea that people born with a special ability would be rounded up and confined to worker camps, as they were about 50 years before the series takes place, is incredibly easy to imagine.

The Curse Workers series has gone straight into the top 10 of my recommended YA series, and if you haven't already, I suggest you dive straight in. Now I'm off to organise that Holly Black party... 

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