Curses and cons. Magic and the mob. In Cassel Sharpe's world, they go together. Cassel always thought he was an ordinary guy, until he realized his memories were being manipulated by his brothers. Now he knows the truth—he’s the most powerful curse worker around. A touch of his hand can transform anything—or anyone—into something else. That was how Lila, the girl he loved, became a white cat. Cassel was tricked into thinking he killed her, when actually he tried to save her. Now that she's human again, he should be overjoyed. Trouble is, Lila's been cursed to love him, a little gift from his emotion worker mom. And if Lila's love is as phony as Cassel's made-up memories, then he can't believe anything she says or does. When Cassel's oldest brother is murdered, the Feds recruit Cassel to help make sense of the only clue—crime-scene images of a woman in red gloves. But the mob is after Cassel too—they know how valuable he could be to them. Cassel is going to have to stay one step ahead of both sides just to survive. But where can he turn when he can't trust anyone—least of all, himself? Love is a curse and the con is the only answer in a game too dangerous to lose.
I don't know whether it's day or night when the girl gets up to leave.
This book is absolute, concrete proof that if Holly Black was a curse worker, she would work emotions. She already has the part about wreaking total havoc on people's minds and feelings down - Red Glove left me not knowing whether to laugh, gasp, or cry (all three of which happened frequently throughout the entire novel). The plot has so many intricate twists and turns; you think you know what's going to happen, you are absolutely sure that you're correct, and then Holly Black springs something new on you and you're left reeling, utterly shocked - and then the process starts all over again.
The mystery is complex, and it clearly has personal consequences for Cassel. I honestly admit that my own guess for the killer turned out to be way off, and that's really what makes the mystery so good - you spend most of the book guessing different people and being stymied by obstacles and distractions, and then when you get to the part where you discover the identity of the murderer, you feel like you should have known the whole time, like "Why didn't I suspect that person? Seems like such a natural candidate now!" The last chapter - well, all but the last few pages - left me feeling satisfied and rather proud of Cassel, which is why I really shouldn't be so shocked that those final four pages were totally heartwrenching. I mean, did I really expect that Holly Black - Holly Black - was just going to leave me feeling all content and relaxed? The last few pages are just as torturous as the end of White Cat. However, I actually really liked it, because I have a feeling that the revelation at the end is going to make for some very, very interesting events in Black Heart.
The world that's created in the Curse Workers series is definitely one of my favorites. It's very complex and realistic, and I honestly have never encountered such a unique system of magic. The curse workers can do different things to people with a single touch, depending on what type of worker they are - luck, dream, physical, emotion, memory, death, or transformation. However, the awesome part is that they don't just get to go around cursing people with no consequences. There's something called blowback, which is kind of like karma - what goes around comes around, and when you work someone, you're affected too (for example, a memory worker works someone and then loses some of their own memories). I love how there are real issues presented; it's not like all the magic and cons are taking place and there's no retaliation from the government or the 'normal' people. In fact, a big part of the novel is about the protests taking place for curse worker rights, and the legal and social repercussions of forcibly testing people to see if they are workers are not. There are people like Governor Patton, who is completely against rights for workers, and people like Mrs.Wasserman, who is a leader in the fight against Proposition 2 (which proposes that everyone be tested). A teacher at Cassel's school is fired for assisting the kids in attending a protest for worker rights. Reality is definitely taken into account here, and I really admire Holly Black for addressing things like political issues and the morality of certain rights for people.
Cassel had to make a lot of decisions in Red Glove, and while not all of them were good ones, they were all incredibly tough to make. There's just so much bearing down on him - the Feds, Zacharov, and Lila, not to mention his own family - that it would be unrealistic if he made the 'good' decision all the time and stayed on high moral ground. Honestly, he's a pretty screwed-up person - I mean, with his upbringing and what his family put him through, how could he not be? However, it's impossible not to sympathize with him, even if he is scamming people left and right. And so when he does something that isn't 'good', I support him, because he shows that it's not always easy to distinguish between good and bad, and he's just a kid trying to figure it all out. You root for him every step of the way, emotionally messed-up con artist or not.
The characters in the Curse Worker series are fantastic. They seem very real, as if they could be your closest friends and your worst enemies. They're all well-constructed and have depth; you understand their conflicts and the motivations behind their decisions. You love them and hate them and yell at them for doing stupid things, but you never feel like they're unnatural or unrealistic. I adore Cassel. He's tortured and having a pretty rough time - he faces all of these crazy problems that most people will never have to deal with (like being coerced into becoming a murderer by his family), and yet he also has to figure out high school and friendships. There's this dark, bad-boy demeanor to him, this dangerous aura, that scares some people and makes others fall for him, but that's not the reason the reader is on his side - it's the fact that he's just as confused as the rest of us, just trying to figure things out. It's hard not to root for him, no matter what kind of murky moral future he faces. Then, there's Lila. Lila is possibly my favorite mobster ever. She's the daughter of crime boss Zacharov, and she knows she's got power. However, she does love Cassel (or does she?) and that means we also get to see a more vulnerable side of her. She's adventurous and beautiful and smart and conflicted and has serious problems, but there's no doubt that I love her anyway. Sam and Daneca were fairly minor characters in White Cat, but they're more important in Red Glove, and I really liked getting to know them better. I found myself anticipating seeing more of Sam's humor and Daneca's passion about her beliefs, and watching their relationship grow was sweet and later, heartwrenching. I also really like how Holly Black's cast of characters is diverse (and the Jace shoutout was great).
I love how the themes in Red Glove are so well-addressed. There are definitely some really powerful ideas in there, including messages about consent, family loyalties, and the thin line between right and wrong. While all of those ideas were really fascinating, the family issues are something I really enjoy discussing, because after all, these people are your family, your flesh and blood. They're supposed to be the ones you trust and love, and no matter what, they're supposed to be there for you. But what about when your family is completely crazy, in the illegal sense, and they've done so many things to you - forced you to become a murderer, stolen your memories, cursed the girl you love to love you back - what happens then? They're still your family, right? Or do you refuse to stand by them? Do you even have a choice when it comes to your family? These are all prickly issues, and they have only served to strengthen my insane love for families in YA (see: my obsession with Sarah Rees Brennan's The Demon's Lexicon series).
The crime in this series...well, I'm a sucker for the mob and for con artists, and when this awesome magic system comes into the picture, there's no way I can resist. The scams are very realistically done - I was actually rather tempted to try some of them, just to see if they would work. Cassel uses his smarts just as much as he uses his working ability to get away with things and con people, as do all the other workers, his mom especially. It's obvious that working people is an art, as is conning them, and it takes time and practice to develop it. It's not just about magic, it's also about influencing people and using sleight of hand.
The phrase 'emotional roller coaster' is used a lot, but I truly think that this book embodies it. I was deeply invested in the characters and in the story; I found myself gasping at each new twist in the plot and sighing at emotional encounters and bad turns for characters. I laughed at the witty banter, and towards the end, when Cassel had a rather difficult talk with Daneca concerning Lila, I realized that there were tears sliding down my face as I came to fully understand the decision that was being made. I was truly drawn into the dark, dangerous world from the very beginning, and the novel kept me in its grip until the very last page. There was amusement and shock and anguish and pain, all written so artfully that you felt these things just as strongly as Cassel himself.
There is no doubt that Red Glove was amazing. After finishing White Cat, I seriously doubted that Holly Black could outdo herself with the sequel, but here, she definitely has. If you haven't picked up this series yet, do yourself a favor and read it now - you won't regret it!