Friday, June 21, 2013

The Con is On ... Again: Red Glove by Holly Black

This review originally ran at SFFaudio, who provided the review book. 

Red Glove is the second book in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series, the first of which was White Cat.

As the book begins, we get more of a feel for the insecure world in which Cassel grew up. It is the end of summer vacation and he’s living with his mother in Atlantic City, drifting from hotel to hotel, helping her con a series of wealthy gentleman friends for support. It is an anxiety-filled existence, with the potential for exploding violence at any moment.

When his senior year at boarding school begins, Cassel is glad to reenter the familiar environment. That is derailed when Lila, the girl he loves but must avoid, begins school there as well. Inevitably, it seems, she becomes one of his circle of friends and the angst of seeing the girl he cannot have is constantly on his mind.

Just a few days into the school year, Cassel’s oldest brother is murdered and the Feds try to recruit him to help solve that case and investigate a possibly related string of unsolved murders. The only clue is video footage of a woman wearing red gloves but whose face cannot be seen. They also want Cassel to become an informant on the Zacharov crime family, with which his own family has long been aligned. Complicating matters, the Zacharov’s also want to recruit Cassel to use his transformation powers on their behalf. As if that weren’t pressure enough, the state government is heightening efforts to test everyone to identify curse workers.

As Cassel attempts to untangle the web of lies in which he finds himself, he must resort to a big con to both discover the truth and solve his problems about who he will work with. Naturally this is great fun and there are many plot twists and cliff-hangers along the way in the story which make it somewhat addictive listening. Only the final twist of the book was fairly predictable. However, it is fairly unimportant to the book overall as it serves to act as the bridge to carry the reader forward into the next book of the series.

Red Glove conveys more of the feel of Cassel’s age since much of the action takes place around classes or with school pals. However, as in White Cat, the key issues are still those of trust, betrayal, friendship, identity, truth, and true love, all on a higher level than the ordinary book set among this age group.
As in the first book, Cassel walks a tightrope between right and wrong in his world of gray ethics. The fact that he now has some close friends allows us to see him opening up to others and extending himself in their time of need. He will use his con skills when needed but is taking increasing chances by telling the truth to those around him. This allows for personal growth that makes his choices harder much of the time, but which we can see slowly building to a way out of the crime-filled, worker world he has always inhabited.

Black does us the great favor of not worrying much about back story or lengthy flashbacks. She will add a sentence or two when the stories overlap to be sure the reader is oriented and then moves on. This kept the story moving at a fairly brisk pace, although it did bog down a bit in the middle when Cassel goes hunting for who set up a particular murder victim.

As before, Jesse Eisenberg narrated the book with great skill, conveying Cassel’s emotions as the awkward high school senior longing for normalcy. Usually he would simply alter his voice a bit to portray other characters but occasionally would use accents to great effect, as in his portrayal of the head of the Zacharov family.

Red Glove is not as fresh and sparkling as White Cat, but it is a worthy successor. I definitely enjoyed it and am considering getting the print version for rereading. Recommended.

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