My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Girls like her, my grandfather once warned me, girls like her turn into women with eyes like bullet holes and mouths made of knives. They are always restless. They are always hungry. They are bad news. They will drink you down like a shot of whisky. Falling in love with them is like falling down a flight of stairs. What no one told me, with all those warnings, is that even after you’ve fallen, even after you know how painful it is, you’d still get in line to do it again.That's Cassel Sharpe for you. He's stuck on Lila Zacharov and stuck good. It's a real shame that he's under duress to work undercover for the FBI and she's enthusiastically training to take a place in her father's crime family. If only that were his only problem.
As in the previous two books of the Curse Workers trilogy (White Cat, Red Glove), where certain individuals are born with the ability to curse others with the touch of a finger, we're working up to a big con job that will save the day. Meanwhile Cassel is continually attempting to become a better person, a good person, while navigating a gritty maze of gray moral choices.
He's given plenty of opportunities because his special curse working skill means that everyone wants to use him. Sorting through lures, threats, and blackmail from family, the mob, and the government becomes a way of life and gives author Holly Black plenty of room to weave plots.
Cassel's mother is held hostage, a long-ago diamond heist must be solved, a fellow student needs help against a blackmailer, the government needs him for a special mission that could end bigotry against curse workers, and his roommate has girl friend problems. And let's not forget the main attraction, Cassel's tumultuous relationship with Lila, who now hates him. Yep. It's all in a day's work for Cassel Sharpe.
As always, it comes down to an elaborate con which pulls everything together and wraps things up, while managing to stay plausible. Black has the courage to bring her trilogy to a definite end and I applaud her for doing so. The ending is not tidy, but I liked it that way. It managed to be satisfying while simultaneously reflecting the uncertainty of Cassel's life. And that is quite a feat.
Interestingly, this last book of the trilogy contained a spot where author Holly Black suddenly took a misstep in writing from a male perspective. In a love scene a guy would not be talking about his flat stomach and corded muscles ... that's a girl's turn on. He'd be talking about her ... ahem ... various attributes. Black did such a good job the rest to of the time that this rang particularly false and it isn't a big deal. Just ... interesting.
Audio Notes: As with the preceding Curse Worker books, Jesse Eisenberg's narration is perfect for conveying Cassel's awkwardness. I particularly enjoy the moments when he portrays other characters through slight alterations which manage to communicate a surprising amount about the people he is voicing. His narration is a big part of my enjoyment of the series. Would I read other Curse Worker books instead of listening to the audio? Probably not. Eisenberg is Cassel and I like it that way.
This review originally ran at SFFaudio who provided the review copy.