Firstly I know I don’t usually do series reviews as I tend to prefer reviewing separate books, but given I’m a gazillion reviews behind and that I read all three books back to back, I’m more likely to mix up what happened in what and give slightly wrong information in my reviews. There a couple of other series that will probably have the same treatment for pretty much the same reason.
The Curse Workers trilogy by Holly Black consist of White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart. I’d known about the existence of White Cat for a while now but had been unsure whether the concept grabbed me or not. I ended up listening to it after not being able to find any other YA books I want to read there and then on Audible.
The three books follow Cassel, the only non-worker kid in a family of workers. Workers refer to people with magic-like abilities, with each person having a different type of ability (emotion, death, dream, luck, memory, physical, transformation). As using one’s abilities is illegal, most workers work for mob bosses of one kind or another (or, of course, for the government). But Cassel doesn’t have any powers. All that makes him different is his tendency to sleep walk and oh, the fact that he murdered his best friend, somehow, for some reason. He doesn’t remember why, he doesn’t even remember doing it, he remembers only the deep, euphoric feeling that came after the fact, when he stood over her bloody body, the knife in his hand.
Cassel hates himself for what he’s done, for the gaps in his memories surrounding what happened, and the guilt of it has been eating at him for years. But what Cassel doesn’t know if that he didn’t kill Lila, and that his memories of more than just that one incident have been messed with.
Cassel’s family are, for the most part, a bunch of bastards and I didn’t really manage to warm to any of them. In between his painfully flaky, emotion-worker mother who uses her abilities to seduce rich men only to leave them when she has gotten what she wanted, his bully of an eldest brother, and his other brother, Baron, who is losing himself one memory at a time by stealing and changing the memories of others, only Cassel’s grandfather seemed to be a decent human being (and he is a death-worker, so that’s saying something).
The trilogy unfortunately got worse with each book. I rated White Cat a 5 star, and subsequent books were respectively a 4 and 2 star. The story got less and less interesting, and the characters less likeable as the series went along. Cassel, who I cared about quite a lot in the first book, wound up irritating the hell out of me later on. I found the female characters in the book to be some of the worst written in a while, with their powers revolving around manipulating emotions or healing, and their characters not seeming to stretch far past this, or when it did, falling into other stereotypes relevant to their roles in the story. (The only female character I can remember who had another power, was an old terrifying woman who was a death worker…the rest of the female cast is either young or pretty, or a stunning older woman…).
The prose was nothing to write home about, consistent enough to make the reading smooth, but showing no particular flair or skill. The world around the characters feels very bland and washed out, surprisingly un-alive. It didn’t help with showing more than one side of the characters and added to the general disappointment the series left me with in the end, despite how much I had actually enjoyed the first book.
One of the things I did really like within the books, however, was how Black described her characters’ experiences every time they got to touch things with their bare hands. In a world where wearing gloves is mandatory, it is rare for the characters to touch things with bare hands. At points, when they do get to do so, Black managed to convey the sense of wonder and dread, the new, almost overwhelming sensory experience. It definitely made up for some of the weaker parts of the character developing!
It’s one of those series where I look back at the 5 stars I gave the first book and wondered how that happened, because the rest seemed to fall so flat and leave so very little of an impression behind.
But the Curse Workers trilogy isn’t a bad read, and if you like your Urban Fantasy to be mixed up with mafia and family intrigue, then you’ll probably enjoy it. As it happens, I mainly picked up this book because I was looking for a male MC after having been through so many books with female MC, and I have to admit that this fell flat by comparison. Cassel wasn’t particularly someone I could identify with, and neither were any of the other characters. Parts that should have been sad, or even heart-breaking, left me indifferent and uncaring.
I know the books have a lot of good reviews out there, so it probably just wasn’t a series for me! Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t check more of Holly Black’s work after reading these books.