Sunday, 20 September 2015

#CBR7 Book 94: "Black Heart" by Holly Black

Page count: 304 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This is book 3 of a trilogy. This review, and even the book summary, is likely to contain spoilers for previous books in the series. Skip this until you're caught up.

In the third and final volume of Holly Black's Curse Worker trilogy, Cassel has forced his older brother Barron into working for the Feds, and he's loving every minute of it, as he's able to use his memory working to get a whole load of cool fringe benefits. Cassel can't be officially recruited by them yet, as he's not 18, but the deal is that once he's finished his final year of school, he'll come work for them too. Now he's mainly using his practise missions to spy on Lila, the girl he loves and who pretty much hates him after the emotion work his mother forced on her wore off. Lila Zacharov is following in her father's footsteps, having quit school and become a gangster in training.

Having not seen or heard from his mother in a while, Cassel discovers that Lila's father has her under house arrest for stealing and fencing his most prized possession, the resurrection diamond, a stone believed to have belonged to Rasputin, and whose owner can never be killed. He's been wearing a fake for years, but would like the original returned, and Cassel has no choice but to agree to try to locate it. Anything to be nearer to Lila, who lives in the same flat where his mother is now imprisoned.

The Feds need Cassel's help in neutralising a senator, who after emotion work was performed on him by a number of individuals, including Cassel's mother, has become dangerously unstable. He keeps proposing mandatory testing of all citizens, wanting those who are proven to be workers fired from their jobs, and in some extreme cases, imprisoned. As the government also employs magically gifted workers, it's very much in their interest that the sentator is taken out of the equation. They want Cassel to change him into a dog, who they can keep contained. Every instinct Cassel has says this is a trap, and his brother's snooping confirms it.

There is also a fairly boring subplot involving a school friend of Cassel's, hiring him and his roommate Sam to help her retrieve some photographs she's being blackmailed for. I thought the whole plot dragged quite a bit. It felt like it, as well as the extensive relationship drama between Sam and his girlfriend Daneca had been inserted mainly as padding, because Cassel's two main story lines - his doomed love for Lila and his moral quandary about transforming the senator, weren't enough to fill out the book.

What I really like about this whole series is that it's mostly a contemporary fiction series, with just a slight magical twist. The various worker powers are interesting to me, as are the implications of what such powers and the fear of them would do to a society. The books explore prejudice, fear and discrimination in an interesting way, and there is a tremendous range of morality in the various characters. There is very little right or wrong, just a whole lot of grey areas. Cassel isn't a very nice person, and has a lot of bad stuff in his past and present, but he keeps trying to protect the people he cares about and protect them as best he can. Sometimes he has to break the law to do that, but he doesn't want to become worse than he already is. He's killed people, but only because his brothers used him and made him forget it. He's caused a lot of pain to people he cares about, especially Lila, and so desperately wants to make up for it.

I found Barron's slight redemptive arc in this last book both promising and with the reveal of the picture on his phone, and what Cassel did with it, a bit heart-breaking. Barron has clearly been a sociopathic dick for much of the books, but you do get the sense that the brothers love each other despite all that. Their relationship with each other, and their mother, is very dysfunctional. I like their grandfather though, he's a nice guy, for all that he's been a mob assassin for much of his life.

I liked Cassel's solution to the dilemma he faced, and the tension in the aftermath, where his smart-arse ways were suddenly not enough to get him out of a bind. It was nice to see that the trust he'd learned to put in others over the course of the series paid off and that by the end of the series, things were seeming to look up for him. I said in my review for Red Glove that this would make an interesting TV show - a sort of paranormal Sopranos for young adults. Cast it with hot young things and it would probably do really well on the CW.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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