I’m not sure if this is just going to be a trilogy or intended to be a longer series? In any case, I just finished reading the three books (so far!) in Holly Black’s Curse Workers young adult series (titled White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart). The premise is interesting, and draws the characters into a world of crime and corruption that I haven’t seen in exactly the same way in other YA books, though some of the typical tropes and characters definitely come out to play. In particular, there is some good commentary that could be related to “outing” people and the persecution of particular groups within society today, in the form of wanting to test everyone so that they can be clearly identified as “curse workers” within this world. I shall explain what this means henceforth:
Set in what is the current present day, White Cat begins with us coming to know a teenager named Cassel, who is the youngest in a family of curse workers: curse workers are a small subset of the population who have special abilities, that they are able to control through touching others with their hands. This is why in the book universe, everyone wears gloves all the time, to reduce the chance that someone will touch them and curse them. The curse workers’ abilities can come in the following forms:
– Luck workers: can influence the luck a person is about to have
– Emotion workers: can make individuals feel a particular way about a particular subject or person
– Memory workers: can affect the memory of others, making them forget certain things that have happened
– Dream workers: can make individuals have particular dreams as a way of communicating something to them, or make the individual sleepwalk
– Death workers: kill individuals just by touching them
– Transformation workers: can transform people and objects into different things or to simply look different, which is also the rarest curse ability
Of course, these abilities come with a price, and every time an individual curses someone, they will get what is called “blowback,” in a form related to whatever their curse was. For instance, death workers often experience the death and loss of a body part after killing someone, or memory workers will begin to lose their own memories after taking them from someone else.
Curse work, of course, is illegal in this world, which is why a lot of curse workers often turn to lives of crime, or their abilities come to be cultivated by large crime families. Curse-working families are basically like the mob in this world, and Cassel’s family has a few members working for one of the biggest crime families in the area, the Zacharovs. Because of this, Cassel has some to develop some interesting abilities in terms of conning people, etc etc.
So that is the background for curse-working, but what exactly are these stories about? Well, they are about how despite the fact that Cassel wants to go to school and live a normal life, he keeps getting sucked into the world of crime and curse work because of his family, and his past: a past that includes killing the daughter of the Zacharov family’s current patriarch, which his family conveniently covered up. But as Cassel begins to experience strange dreams and sleepwalking, he can’t help but wonder if someone is cursing him, and if his composure is going to start slipping. He also comes to realize that while he loves his family and has worked with them all his life, maybe they aren’t as trustworthy as he would like to believe. The story follows Cassel as he comes into his own abilities and tries to set a course for his own life, when everybody seems to want something from him. This includes the government wanting information from him and for him to work with them against the curse working families he’s known all his life, his own family wanting him to help them with dirty deeds, and the crime families cultivating his abilities.
The conspiracies and plots in these books ended up being quite different than a lot of YA books I’ve read, and there is a certain level of darkness to them that I liked. They are easy to read and I zipped through all three pretty quickly. I thoroughly enjoyed the conception of curse working, however, and how it may be seen as relating to certain social issues we have today in regards to minority groups.
There were a few things that kept me from totally loving the series, however. One is that I just could not understand Cassel’s loyalty to his family. I know that people always say that blood is thicker than water, but I’ve been told that it really goes “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb,” meaning that those relationships and families we create for ourselves are often stronger than those we feel obligated to keep? Of course this is not always the case, but I just really did not like many of the people in Cassel’s family, yet he kept on saving them and trying to do right by them no matter what, even if it put him in tricky situations. I understand loving your family, but I also understand accepting that sometimes, despite the familial relation, there is a lack of connection. I will also say that some of the younger characters’ teenage angst and issues sometimes got to me, but I’m just at that point where I don’t relate to that as much anymore. In particular, I did not fully understand Cassel’s relationships with certain girls, and did not really see any chemistry or reason for them to be together. But maybe that’s just me.
All in all, I think there is a solid series here. It wasn’t my favourite, but was definitely enjoyable at the end of the day. I might be interested in continuing on with it should more books come out, to be honest, but it did sort of wrap up in a decent way at the end of the last book, so there may not be any more? I just don’t know.