Series: The Curse Workers #1
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on May 2010
Genres: Fantasy, Urban, Young Adult
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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 behaviour 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.
After getting into this book, I began to really enjoy the story that was being told. Black has constructed an alternate reality of Curse Workers that extends back into the most ancient of histories; workers populate Australia and the United States pilfering jobs for crime families like The Godfather.
In this sense, I thought that the story had a hint of a dystopian concept even though it wasn’t a dystopia. In a world of curse workers, everyone is forced to wear gloves; everyone lives in fear of getting worked. In Cassel’s world, someone coming at you with bare hands can be more deadly than a sharpened knife.
Black also had strong familial themes that ran through this book. After his heinous crime against Lila and the Zacharov family, Cassel’s brothers were there to help him and make sure his crime went unpunished; the big brothers cleaning up the mess. But then, we also see the insanely dysfunctional side of his family and the family he realized he always wanted but never had. With a mother in jail, living in the house of a hoarder, and being released from school, Cassel begins to unravel the truth about families; even a deep level of loyalty he can’t seem to shake.
As the story progresses, we have the privilege to watch Cassel grow as a person. Bearing witness to character development is a strong part of this book as we see him go from leading a life of “normalcy” to honestly having and trusting friends. His intelligence surges as he realizes the biggest con of his life. From the roof, the only place to go is down, but when he hits rock bottom and finds the truth, the only place for him to go is up.
The one aspect that caused me to not really love the book was the easy-to-unravel plot. It wasn’t hard for me to know what was really going on with Cassel as to what he was and what was happening to him. But even knowing what was happening, the read was still enjoyable and Black’s writing was great. It was also the first book that had a character with a name similar to mine (the same as my nickname): Lila. But that was a personal little smile point, and not really important to anyone else, I’m sure.