Title: Red Glove
Author: Holly Black
Genre: young-adult, supernatural fiction
Series: The Curse Workers #2
Pages: 352 (Nook edition)
Published: April 2011
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.
High expectations are often a hard thing for books, especially anticipated sequels, to live up to, especially when I basically fangirled all over myself for the first book in this series, White Cat. I have to think that, after the whirlwind bundles of fun and originality that was the first novel, Holly Black stumbles just a bit with the second outing of the Curse Workers series. Set just months after the events of the first, pacing issues, much less action and adventure and other problems begin to accumulate early on, but don't mar the entire novel too badly. My main complaint about this is that the "mystery" at the heart of everything, just wasn't. I wasn't intrigued or confused - it felt transparent and obvious, but I still managed to have a mostly great time with this and Cassel, who continues to be a thoroughly entertaining main character and narrator.
Let's get the good about Red Glove out first - Cassel remains one of my favorite male YA POVs in the entire genre. Though this series is written by a mature woman, Cassel's voice, attitude and life read completely authentically - well, as authentically as can be for a super-rare Transformation worker in a series about magic-infused crime families. I'm hard-pressed to think of other authors that pull off such a feat so well. He's the same sneering bastard with a heart of gold, but he's evolved, grown up and more mature this second go-round. And while I am super, super tired of the cliched love triangle, it is somewhat interesting to read one that is male-centric - it also doesn't hurt that both girls (Lila, Audrey) are out of bounds, so it's more wishful thinking on Cassel's part than anything else. The only bad thing is about the characterization here in Red Glove is that Cassel can occasionally be as naiive as he was throughout White Cat. I know that there are maybe four people he can absolutely trust, but I wish that he would wake up and realize that hard fact as well.
Holly Black mosst certainly can't be faulted for her imagination and incorporation of her unique version of the supernatural. Her alternate universe full of ideas "hyperbathygammic" abilities and the concept of magical blowback that is truly freaky (see: anything that happens to Cassel), as well as the hierarchy of magical mafia families. Though the foreshadowing still leaves something to be desired, this is a fertile field for these characters to spin tales and deceptions, betrayals and magic. While I felt the novel diverted from the main track too often to include more about the Workers Rights platform, it is a nice addition to the social framework of the book's setting. Much like any feared and uncontrolled faction, the Workers feel persecuted as the government vacillates between forcing HBG testing or not upon its citizens. Undertones from real world racism and bigotry are obviously paralleled in Black's world and the fight for equality/anonymity is personal to many of the characters - I just wish the author had used a little more restraint when it came to getting her message across.
Red Glove simply isn't as immersive as its predecessor; a slower beginning, a more gradual pace, and an overfocus on a side plotline (Workers Rights), that while important and relevant, isn't nearly as awesome as magic-enhanced Mafia families. Compared to how awesome and unpredictable the antagonists of book one were (Anton/Barron/Philip), the duo of Agents Hunt and Jones aren't nearly as compelling. Less action-tastic than part one, I needed either the antagonists or the mystery itself to up the ante, and sadly neither thing happened for me in these 350 pages. Though the fucked-up family dynamic is still much in play in this, it's not to the same level as the first. Cassel's mom and brother Barron are more tertiary characters than before as the novel's main plot focuses on Cassel/Sam/Daneca/Lilah and the murders at the heart of everything.