Monday, April 1, 2013

RED GLOVE


Review of RED GLOVE by HOLLY BLACK
(second in THE CURSE WORKERS series, review based on an advance reading copy)

I loved RED GLOVE every bit as much as WHITE CAT. The series cuts apart thematically in ways that I find quite logical, a welcome relief from the often arbitrary breaks between books. In WHITE CAT, Cassel fixates on his past - unraveling a knot of events that doesn't make sense. In RED GLOVE, he lives more in the present - dealing with the ramifications of what he learned. BLACK GLOVE, I expect, will likely focus on Cassel's future - his final decisions about loyalty: help a crime family or the law enforcement?

Despite his extremely unusual background, Cassel's first person, present tense perspective feels natural. The story's not only set in an alternate world with magic, but Cassel comes from a family of criminals who use their varied magical skills for everything from petty cons to grisly murders. (If you haven't read WHITE CAT, stop reading here - this review has a couple of spoilers about the first book.) Adding to the list of "not-your-average-teen," Cassel has murdered. As we learned in WHITE CAT, his brothers magically manipulated him into committing these murders, which gives both Cassel and readers ethical wiggle room to cut him some slack, but nevertheless he's killed people. He also cons and manipulates others frequently and without magical coercion, and he often avoids important questions simply so he can comfort his own guilt later with the idea that he didn't know the big picture. True, Cassel isn't a clear-cut good-guy protagonist, but he's fascinating and captivating and believable. I could always relate to his emotions, even if not his actions or his choices. That's one of the wonders of great writing!

THE CURSE WORKERS series flows well and entertains consistently, so you can simply sit back and enjoy a good book. However, if you like digging a little deeper into characters, story, themes, etc, there's plenty of material there. Three themes still linger in my mind after reading the book. First, there's the concept of accountability. Cassel's brothers may have manipulated his actions with magic trickery, but does that exclude him from any blame? To further muddle the question, it's a little blurry exactly how much control Cassel had over his own actions. At times it sounds like Lila used her sleep magic to make Cassel commit the murders. Then his brother Baron claims that Lila only sleepwalked Cassel out of his dorms. Using his memory magic, Baron gave Cassel a forged memory of murdering someone. Convinced he was already a murderer, Cassel went along with murdering again. He may never know for certain, though, if Baron's lying or not, since Baron took the memories of each murder afterwards. Regardless of the how and why, Cassel has murdered and sometimes that knowledge blurs his own sense of ethics. Like anyone struggling with any kind of addiction or indulgence, once you give in a little it's hard not to give in all the way.

Second, there's a strong theme about what's real versus artificial. At the very end of WHITE CAT, Cassel realizes his mother used her emotion magic to make Lila love him. He's longed for her for years, so his mother, with her own warped sense of right and wrong, thought Lila on a platter would be a nice gift. Cassel, though, doesn't want her that way, entranced against her will into feeling something she doesn't really feel. Emotion magic wears off eventually, but it's not an abrupt change  - go to sleep with a curse and wake up without; instead it's a slow transition back to normal. There's no simple timeline, either, meaning Cassel can't never know for certain if the emotion magic has worn off, leaving behind genuine love, or if part, or all, of her feelings aren't really hers.

Third, the entire series studies the immense strength of family roots - for better or worse. Cassel's future feels tragically sealed by his upbringing and I expect the third book will examine this even more. He's in an endless self-battle defining right and wrong and certain influences only complicate an already complex question. Even when he tries stepping back from illegal activities, he finds himself cleaning up after those he loves.

I can't wait to discover how Black will end this incredible series. Watch for my forthcoming review of BLACK HEART!

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