Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Spotlight: The Curse Workers Trilogy by Holly Black

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Hello Beardies,

Welcome back to Book Spotlight! It’s been far too long since I wrote one of these posts, but I’m glad to be back at it.

Tonight’s Book Spotlight is a trilogy that had me captivated from its first installment in 2010. Part fantasy, part crime thriller, with a strong shot of humor and a tie to a French fairy tale, this trilogy made me a believer in urban fantasy. Shortly after reading the first book, I spent an inordinate amount of time in a signing line to meet Holly Black at the ALA conference, and my autographed copy of White Cat is still among my treasured possessions. When the final book came out this spring, I couldn’t wait to tell you about this trilogy.

The Premise:
Cassel Sharpe is just a normal guy…and in his world, that’s not a good thing. Curse work—the ability to control another person’s memories, emotions, dreams, luck, or even life through the simple touch of a finger—runs in his family. Curse work is also illegal, but it’s highly available on the black market, and the black market is controlled by a magical Mafia of sorts, made up of powerful families of “workers” like Cassel’s. Since he’s not a worker, Cassel is an outsider in his own family. He tries his best to stay away from the family business, but a series of bizarre events prove that Cassel’s life is not what he thought, and far from being an outsider, he’s right in the middle and is perhaps the most powerful player of all.

Gems for Writers:
Rules of Magic. In a well-established fantasy world, magic will have boundaries. (If you haven’t already, please go check out Joshua’s fantastic World Building post on this topic!) Holly Black’s rules of magic are well established and thought-provoking. In the world of the Curse Workers, magic is not only illegal, but to wield it means personal consequences known as “blowback”—a sort of instant magical karma—for the worker. Each worker can perform only one type of curse, and the blowback is directly related to the curses they perform. For example, Cassel’s mother, an emotion worker, is emotionally unstable from years of working her targets. His grandfather, a death worker, loses a finger each time he performs a curse, and knows that one too many curses will stop his own heart. To perform curse work, a worker must be aware of and willing to accept the consequences.

World-Building. Even if you choose to set your speculative fiction story in a real city, a fantasy world still needs to be built within it. The Curse Workers Trilogy takes place in New York City and the surrounding area; the world is similar to ours, but Holly Black does a stellar job of building new norms into a realistic setting. Since curse work can only be performed through skin-to-skin contact, everyone wears gloves at all times. The government wants to mandate testing so that they know the whereabouts of all curse workers (ostensibly to protect them), and that is as divisive an issue as any political debate in our world.

Food for Thought. For me, the most unforgettable stories are the ones that leave me with something to think about. Holly Black packs a lot of food for thought and social commentary into this trilogy. The political climate in the world of the curse workers is unstable, hinging on the issue of mandatory testing so the government will know who and where all the workers are. Cassel and his friends attend rallies for worker rights that echo of the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and other great protests we can read about in our history books. Cassel is also in a unique position that places him directly in the middle of his family and the government, and many times he finds himself thinking about what makes a family and to whom he owes his allegiance—the family that treats him as an outsider or the government that would jail every last one of his family members. All of this food for thought has left these books embedded deep in my memory.  And hungry for more.


Well, Beardies, we’ve reached the end of another edition of Book Spotlight. I hope you’ll take the time to check out at least one—if not all—of these fantastic books! 

Until next time…

Happy Reading and Happy Scribing!

***White Cat (2010), Red Glove (2011), and Black Heart (2012), by Holly Black, are published by and copyright Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. They are available in stores, online, and from your local public library.

1 comment:

  1. Yet another great Book Spotlight, Elizabeth! Keep 'em coming!


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