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a curse workers miniseries with ajay friese as cassel, archie renaux as barron, and avan jogia as philip is something that can actually be so personal

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originally posted feb. 26, 2015 - ★★★★★

What a ride. Read this series if you haven’t already. It’s fun, it’s witty, it’s original, and it’s all fucking wonderful. I enjoyed every minute of it and you probably would too.

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I honestly don’t know why more people don’t talk about the Curse Workers series? It’s genuinely brilliant and by the end you’re so attached to these characters you’d read another three books about them. Cassel Sharpe is just as lovable and interesting and sympathetic to read about as Jude Duarte (and I say this as a massive Jude stan).    

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You know you’re reading a Holly Black book when

Food and character’s clothing is constantly being mentioned, helping to ground you in the fantastical worlds she builds 

The world building is super well thought out, and is developed in some unique ways 

The prevailing thought you have while being submersed in her books that the main couple really shouldn’t work, and should make you feel uncomfortable but for some inexplicable reason you still find yourself staning them

There are schemes being schemed by everyone. All the time 

The main character insists on putting themselves through harrowing physical torture for the sake of said scheme

The protagonist is morally dubious but with a glint of goodness at their core

Complicated family dynamics that no matter how treacherous they may be, still manage to serve up bags worth of feels

Really, really, really well written teenage characters? It’s honestly kind of amazing   

Constant shout outs to other books and forms of media 

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this, the language of deception, we both understand. we were born to it, along with the curses.

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I can’t trust the people I care about not to hurt me. And I’m not sure I can trust myself not to hurt them, either.

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“That’s why the big score is a myth. A fairy tale. Because no one ever quits after a successful job. They get stupid and cocky and think they’re invulnerable. They convince themselves to do just one more, just this last time. And then the time after that, because if a job goes sideways, then you want to do another to get the taste of failure out of your mouth. And if it goes well, you do another to chase that feeling.”

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**Light Spoilers**

4/5

Black Heart by Holly Black is the final book in the Curse Workers trilogy. Cassel is training to enter into the FBI’s program for young workers once he turns 18. Lila on the other hand is taking her destiny in stride. Having taken her scars, Lila has begun working as a foot soldier for her father to earn respect before taking her place as head of the family. The emotion work that was done on Lila has faded, and her relationship with Cassel is tumultuous at best.

Cassel’s mother is in trouble with the law… again. After doing emotion work on Governor Patton, Cassel’s mother was forced into hiding when what she had done went public. Cassel finds out that it was Zacharov that put his mother up to working Governor Patton as repayment for stealing the Resurrection Diamond. Seeing as Cassel’s mother failed with Governor Patton, Zacharov has taken her as a “prisoner” (albeit a very comfortable prisoner) in his apartment until Cassel can locate and return the diamond.

Cassel has enough on his plate between working another deal with Zacharov, trying to avoid being kicked out of school, and keeping his side gig as a fed-in-training on the down low. Cassel’s newest assignment from the FBI is to transform Governor Patton who is a staunch supporter of proposition two, the law that would require citizens to be tested by the government for working abilities. Cassel’s FBI handler insists that Cassel can remove himself at anytime, but the conman in him knows that something about the mission is off.

Because Cassel can’t seem to say no, he also agrees to help a girl in his school named Mina blackmail the dean of Wallingford. The dean has been diagnosed with Alzheimers and Mina has been forced to do physical work on him in exchange for a scholarship to the school. However, the working Mina is doing to stall the dean’s illness is causing her to fall ill herself. Mina’s situation is just one of many atrocities that worker kids are forced into because of legality issues surrounding their abilities. If the Patton supported proposition two were to pass and the identities of workers made public, many other kids would be forced into situations like Mina’s.

Cassel wanted nothing more than to be a worker, but now that news about his transformation abilities is spreading Cassel is faced with deciding how to use his powers. Cassel learns that there are no real good guys. That everyone has an agenda and is willing to do whatever necessary to achieve it. The best that Cassel can hope for is to do right by his friends and family. He knows that life as a transformation worker won’t be easy, but that nothing worth doing ever is. After months of protecting his family and trying to do the right thing, Cassel finally decides to do what makes him happy.

Black Heart served to wrap up the story of Cassel Sharpe. Cassel learns that the world isn’t black and white, and that it is how you work within the shades of grey that matters. He cannot force his family to change. Every situation can’t be remedied by a clever con. The monopoly on Cassel’s powers isn’t to be held by the FBI or by Zacharov or by his mother, but by Cassel himself. The story started out a little slow. It would’ve been hard to remain engaged if you weren’t already invested in the characters. The plot involving Mina and the dean was interesting in that it showed the situations that worker kids are forced into and provided support for why proposition two shouldn’t be allowed to pass. The portions of the story involving proposition two and Governor Patton are where most of the action is. The plot involving the Resurrection Diamond and Cassel’s mother felt random and forced. The story would have been more or less the same if this part had been removed.

I was conflicted on what rating to give Black Heart. I was disappointed by the slow lead up and lack of continuous action, but once the plot picked up it was enjoyable. Even through the slower portions I remained interested, which is why I ended up giving the book a 4/5. Overall, I would recommend the Curse Workers series to fans of the fantasy genre and for those who enjoy teen heist stories.

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4/5

****White Cat Spoilers****

Now that Cassel Sharpe knows that he is a transformation worker he knows that he is a wanted man, in more ways than one. After spending the summer with his con-woman mother pulling schemes in Atlantic City, Cassel is ready to head back to school for his senior year. It isn’t long before Cassel’s life becomes more complicated. After telling Lila she had been worked by his mother, Cassel spent most of the summer avoiding her and her cursed love, only to discover that she has enrolled at his school. To make murky matters murkier, Cassel’s brother Philip, a mobster turned informant, has been murdered and the feds on his case expect Cassel to help them find the killer. The feds believe that Philip’s murderer is the same person responsible for hits carried out by an individual hired by the mobster Zacharov, but Cassel knows this isn’t the case. He knows because he is responsible for the disappearances of the other men. Cassel must balance school, cursed love, and his new career as an informant while also conducting his own investigation into Philip’s murder. Cassel lives in a world of secrets and lies, but in such a world how does one find the truth?

Red Glove by Holly Black has a fun fantasy meets murder mystery plot. Although not as fast-paced as White Cat, Red Glove does have its share of twists and schemes. Excluding the fantastical aspect of curse working, it’s not hard to imagine real life kids from crime families experiencing shenanigans similar to that of Cassel and Lila. Red Glove was an enjoyable read without being overly involved. A book to read just for the fun of reading.

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****SPOILERS****

4/5

Cassel Sharpe is a Worker, except he doesn’t know that yet. Workers can specialize in emotion, memory, luck, dreams, body, death, and the rarest type, transformation. Given that the process of “working” is illegal, Workers are the subject of prejudice and struggle to find employment outside of the large crime families. Cassel has learned the way of the con from his mother, who is doing a stint in jail for using her emotional work on an unsuspecting millionaire. Cassel’s brother Philip has followed in their grandfather’s footsteps and works as muscle for the Zacharov crime family. With a family full of Workers, Cassel’s lack of abilities makes him an outsider. He is also haunted by the memory of the murder of his childhood friend Lila; a murder that he committed.

Cassel’s reality is upended when he begins having dreams about a white cat. After a sleepwalking stint involving a rooftop leaves adults questioning his mental state, Cassel is placed on medical leave and must stay with his family until it is safe to let him back into school. It is clear that all is not well on the home front. Philip’s wife Maura looks to be wasting away and hallucinating, middle brother Barron is losing his memory, and someone is drugging Granddad. To make matters worse, Lila is haunting Cassel’s dreams.

With the help of a white barn cat, Cassel begins to uncover the holes in his memory, discovering what actually happened to Lila and the truth about his rare working abilities. After thwarting an assassination attempt and gaining a job with the Zacharov family, life seems to be settling down. That is until Cassel’s mom is released from jail.

Cassel can pull off the perfect con, but is left blind-sided when he finds himself to be a Mark. White Cat shows Cassel’s search for truth and struggle with the phenomenon of trust. While the story did feel like one big set up for the sequel, it was exciting to unravel the hidden truth of the past alongside Cassel. Now that he’s aware of his abilities and free from his brother’s mind altering, I am excited to see what kind of trouble Cassel and his friends get into next.

White Cat by Holly Black is a fun gangster-gone-fantasy novel that breaks away from the more heavily overused fantasy themes. I would recommend White Cat to fans of Black’s other novels, as well as those who enjoy the urban fantasy genre.  

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Black Heart is the third and final book in the Curse Workersseries, written by Holly Black. It follows Cassel forced to not only deal with the consequences of the previous book, but also pull of the biggest con of his life; one that could potentially get him killed.

This is a third book in a series so there will be SPOILERS for books 1 and 2. With that out of the way, let’s get into it.

After conning his way into the FBI’s worker program, Cassel spends his days being coached on espionage by Barron and Agent Yulkova, stalking Lila after their ‘break-up’ and her becoming part of Zacharov’s mob, and pretending to care about school. On one such excursion, he runs into a death worker, who performs a hit for Lila, and that starts a chain of events that lead to his mission to transform Governor Patton for the FBI.

This book was a mixed bag. The parts that were good were very good, probably the best in the series; the parts that were bad though, dragged, and especially the section after Cassel’s meeting with Gage, felt like wasted time. That isn’t to say that we didn’t get development on Cassel, it’s more that at many points this didn’t feel like the last book; only the ending part genuinely made me concerned for the characters and raised the stakes.

The main issue I’ve had with all three books, though it was most noticeable here, was the pacing. It’s very inconsistent; one moment Cassel is in grave danger, and the next he’s forced to deal with petty drama and school. I understand that that’s intentional, to make it as jarring and uneasy as it is for Cassel, who has to deal with these contrasting parts of his life, but unfortunately the school section always felt irrelevant. The entire subplot with Mina felt so unnecessary, and especially at the start, when we don’t really know exactly what is happening, I almost wanted to scream at Cassel to wake up and stop getting into even more trouble for someone he doesn’t know. That whole subplot seemed to only exist to get Sam shot, which i’m still not sure as to why it was necessary. There were other ways to have Sam not interfere in the endgame, and this convoluted blackmail subplot only took time away from exploring more of Yulkova or the feds, or even the Zacharovs.

The subplot with Barron and Danica was also completely unnecessary. Why would Barron decide he wanted to date yet another close friend/girlfriend of Cassel? Why Danica specifically? I feel like nothing really came out of it; it didn’t really develop Danica as a character, it didn’t tell Cassel anything he didn’t already know about Danica or Barron, and it again mostly served as an excuse to have Sam be angry and lash out, which could have been done differently.

Barron as a character I’m still not sold on. On the one hand, I dislike him more than Philip because he was the one who held Lila captive for 3 years, he was the one who worked Cassel’s memory, because of his meddling Cassel gets put into the situation he does the whole of the second book, and it never seems like Barron learns or changes. And yet, he gets redeemed in the end, and even his last request of Cassel makes it seem like he is maybe changing. I’m not sure I agree with that.

The subplot with Cassel’s mother and the resurrection diamond was interesting, but didn’t get enough time to be developed. It felt unfinished, like it was an afterthought, which was odd especially considering how important the diamond was in the first book. Shandra too is not a likable character, and even at the end here, I still never grew to care for her. Cassel’s grandfather only gets one (admittedly excellent) scene, but that’s the most he shows up as.

The subplot with Gage was the only one I legitimately found interesting. I was very disappointed we don’t get more from Gage; in the two scenes he shows up in I was more interested about his backstory than any of the other characters we have been introduced to. I wanted more with that, and I absolutely wouldn’t be opposed to a novella or second series following him and Mina.

As for the main plot with Governor Patton, I thought it was interesting only once they actually start their assassination plot underway. I didn’t care much for Yulkova and I expected a more substantial twist with her. I’m at least glad that Agent Jones ended up being important, and the way Cassel handles the case was clever, and had the potential to go horribly wrong. His speech was hilarious; I was cackling to myself as I read it.

Cassel was still a great protagonist; I was still behind him 100% and wanted him to get out on top and solve the problems in a way where everyone wins. He made this series for me, and he had some genuinely funny and heart wrenching moments. I thought the way Black handled his gripes with good and evil and choice was a bit reductive and simplistic, but that didn’t destroy my enjoyment.

I also have to commend Black for making me care about him and Lila. In the first book I found their relationship very unhealthy and in the second, there was good reason to keep them apart. Here their reconciliation and relationship was genuinely touching, and I really ended up rooting for them. I also appreciated how realistic the scene in which they hook up was; it’s not often that condoms are even acknowledged as existing in ya, let alone someone has them. Or having both of the protagonists have sexual experience before the book starts.

The one thing I’m not a huge fan of is the ending; maybe I’m just getting old, but these one true love relationships when both characters are 17 and live in the real world really make me groan.

Overall this is a solid series. I don’t know why it’s not more talked about; I do think it’s very fun, solid and tackles some interesting themes about growing up, responsibilities and choices. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it; I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

goodreads

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Red Glove is the second book in the Curse Workers series by Holly Black. It follows Cassel, as he comes back to Wallingford for his senior year, and deals with the fallout from the events of the previous book, Things are not going well however, when Federal agents come after Cassel informing him of a tragedy, his mother gets involved in another dangerous con, and most importantly Lila enrolls in Wallingford, still under the curse.

As this is a second book in a series, it will be hard for me to talk about it without spoiling things from the first book, so if you haven’t read White Cat, I suggest you maybe skip this review. Needless to say, I liked this as much as I liked White Cat, and if you did too I can’t see how you wouldn’t like this or not want to read it with the ending that White Cat had.

This book was interesting in that the world gets expanded a little more, with the government, the police and the politics playing a bigger role in the plot, but this came to some extent at the expense of the crime boss aspects of the books. I personally always lean more towards the criminal parts of these types of stories, so I was sad to see that much time being spent on the federal agents who were both obnoxious and unlikable characters, and the registration law. I have no idea if this was a new concept when this book was published, but having read many a X-men and Avengers comic in my lifetime, I found the registration and mandatory testing for curse workers an echo of those themes, and none of what is explored here was new to me. I guess we don’t often see a character so uninterested and apathetic towards what would happen if this law was passed as Cassel, though in light of his life and family I could understand why he would be apathetic. Even his whole debate about how curse workers are dangerous and criminal was something that the X-men explored with Rogue’s character, and not to say this book did a bad job of it, but the X-men comics had a much longer time to do this, and develop her internal conflict.

Other than the political background, this book has several conflicts that overlap and feed into each other, all of which were more engaging than the testing law. There is Cassel’s investigation into how his powers worked, and all the things he did while he was still being worked on by Barron, there is the subplot about Daneca and HEX, there is Lila’s entire story with the curse, and Cassel’s mom’s marks. Out of these the two I found most interesting were the investigation and Lila.

The first plot I found very compelling, not only because we got to learn more about Cassel and his family, but because I really appreciated that Black really explores the complex emotions Cassel has for himself, his family and what he had done to the men that disappeared. While he wasn’t in control of what he was doing to an extent, he did transform those men, and he did it willingly; Baron only changed his memory of the events, but Cassel was willing to go along with it. On some level Cassel was an accomplice to murder, if not an outright murderer himself, and it’s so rare to see genuinely complex characters like this in YA, especially because there is a real dearth of male leads in the genre. Cassel was put in an incredibly hard position throughout the novel, and the way he handles everything and crafts his plan so that everyone can get out mostly on top, and get mostly what they wanted was great to read. I also liked that many things didn’t go according to his plan, and that there wasn’t a true happy ending; I am again reminded of the quote from Brothers Bloom about the perfect con being one where everyone gets what they wanted, and how that film ended.

Another thing that Black absolutely excelled at, was making me sympathize with characters I either hated or didn’t care for, from the first novel. She made me feel sorry for Phillip, who was a character I didn’t have any love for from the first book, but here I was genuinely sad at what happened to him. Part of it was again, how well Black presented Cassel’s conflicting emotions over his brother, both his hatred and guilt, and the inevitable family bond that will never go away, no matter how wronged you are by the ones closest to you.

Lila was also a surprise, because I wasn’t her biggest fan in the first book, and I really didn’t like her relationship with Cassel. But here I was there with both of them, I was devastated at what was happening to her, and though I completely understood her actions at the end, I was still heartbroken that it had to go that way. I also really liked that Black threw in many hints at how hard it was for Lila to adjust in general, not just because of the curse, but because she had spent the last 3 years as a cat, so confined spaces and bars terrified her, she had never been on a date, she was taking remedial classes, etc.

The rest of the cast was likewise excellent. I was sad we didn’t see more of Grandpa Singh, but what little we did get from him was amazing. He is one of my favorite characters in the series and I hope he plays a bigger part in the next book.

Sam I fell in love with; he was such a good friend to Cassel, I liked their banter and his humor, I liked his subplot with Daneca and if anything happens to him I probably won’t be able to handle it.

Daneca was someone I didn’t care much about from the previous book, and weirdly I liked her less here. I couldn’t stand her smug righteousness, how judgmental and arrogant she was, with absolutely no right to do it, considering exactly what she was. There is some truth that people who tend to be most passionate about some form of activism/rights tend to belong to that group, but that’s not nearly as true as people think it is, and it kind of rubbed me the wrong way that that was the reveal we got with her.

Cassel’s mother also got on my nerves a lot. It was clear she loved him and was trying to protect him, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that like Baron, and Philip before him, his mother was just using him for her own gain. Black really knows how to write complex families.

Overall, this was a great second book. While I don’t think I like it as much as I liked the first book, I still think it was a worthy follow up, and I do feel like it changed the status quo dramatically enough to where it warranted its existence. With that ending, I can’t wait to see what will happen in the third book, and Holly Black is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

goodreads

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