Thursday, September 27, 2012

Review: Black Heart, by Holly Black

Published: April 3, 2012
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Format: Hardcover, 296 pages

Goodreads description:
In a world where Magic is illegal.

Cassel Sharpe has the most deadly ability of all. With one touch, he can transform any object - including a person - into something else entirely. And that makes him a wanted man. The Feds are willing to forgive all his past crimes if he'll only leave his con artist family behind and go straight. But why does going straight feel so crooked?

For one thing, it means being on the opposite side of the law from Lila, the girl he loves. She's the daughter of a mob boss and getting ready to join the family business herself. Though Cassel is pretty sure she can never love him back, he can't stop obsessing over her. Which would be bad enough, even if her father wasn't keeping Cassel's mother prisoner in a posh apartment and threatening not to let her leave until she returns the priceless diamond she scammed off him years ago. Too bad she can't remember where she put it.

The Feds say they need Cassel to get rid of a powerful man who is spinning dangerously out of control. But if they want Cassel to use his unique talent to hurt people, what separates the good guys from the bad ones? Or is everyone just out to con him?

Time is running out, and all Cassel's magic and cleverness might not be enough to save him. With no easy answers and no one he can trust, love might be the most dangerous gamble of all.

The following review is based on a copy I purchased myself.

(spoilers for the first two books, but none for Black Heart itself)

I enjoyed Black Heart immensely! It’s definitely a worthy conclusion to the Curse Workers trilogy. I would love another sequel or maybe a short story to see how things continue for the characters, but I was also content to see them where they were and leave the rest up to my own imagination.

At the end of Red Glove, Cassel tricked Barron into joining the feds to help the government against the mob worker families. Cassel himself promised to join the program after finishing school. That was the price he paid for his immunity after being used as an assassin without his knowledge. What I love most about Cassel is that he tries so, so hard to be good and make the right decisions. He loves his family, but he also wants to get away from the fate that seems to be already determined for him – a life of crime, desired by everyone for his rare transformation talent. A life as a tool, a pawn to the powerful. Cassel wants to find a way to use his talent for good ends, he wants a self-determined, independent life. All the while, he is tormented by guilt and cannot believe in his own goodness.

Joining the feds seemed like the lessest evil at the time, but things begin to go downhill pretty quickly. Lila has joined her father and taken the marks of a member of the Zacharov crime family. Even though there seems to be no chance for the two of them, Cassel cannot stop thinking about her. However, his greater problem is that Zacharov is holding his mum captive. The good part: she is wanted by the police and they certainly won’t find her in Zacharov’s apartment. The bad part: Zacharov is holding her hostage until Cassel can find and return the resurrection diamond to him, which she stole and then wanted to sell back to him. Too bad no one knows where the real stone is.

Meanwhile, Zacharov of course cannot know about Cassel’s involvement with the feds. He’d have Cassel’s mom, Barron, and Cassel himself killed immediately for that kind of ‘treason’. And anyway, the lines between good government and evil mobsters become increasingly blurred as the story continues… has Cassel made the right choice? Or is this a case of out of the frying pan, into the fire? Is there anyone at all he can trust?

There’s his roommate Sam, of course. But Sam is trying to piece himself back together after breaking up with Daneca – who is now seeing a mysterious new guy. Then there is a new character with unclear motives who asks Cassel for help, which he cannot deny even while he realizes she might be conning him…
One of my favorite minor characters is Cassel’s grandfather. He is the only family member who truly cares about Cassel, in my opinion. He tries to look out for him without intruding too much into his business and provides comfort and stability.
And Lila… I love Lila. She’s tough. She gets to do things other female characters in YA novels don’t get to do or can’t get away with. She’s a future mob leader! She’s also shrewd, and cruel at times. She knows what she wants and how to get it. She’s (nearly) fearless. In short, she’s something of a mystery and what I enjoy about her is also trying to figure her out, to separate her ‘real’ self (as far as we can glimpse it) from the picture Cassel makes up of her in his mind. I love the scenes between them, how they collide and repel one another but can never truly fight their attraction. Their chemistry is incredible, and there are also some steamy scenes.

I could ramble on and on about how much I love the world of this trilogy, but let me keep that aspect short. The fight for worker rights that got more coverage in Red Glove also plays an important part here. Governor Patton is really pushing for Proposition Two and has become too great a danger to be ignored any longer. I can’t really say more about it without major spoilers. Also the way worker kids are exploited for their talents plays an important role in the novel. I love how realistic and gritty the Curse Workers world is. If people with such talents existed for real, this is what it would be like. I also think it’s amazing how Holly Black interweaves the workers’ past and the fight for worker rights with the working camps of WWII and with the fight for minority rights that is still an issue today.

I love the pacing. This book is incredibly hard to put down, things start off interesting and it just escalates from there, leaving you breathless and quite desperate for Cassel’s situation. I also really like the way Holly Black implies that Cassel has a plan, but manages to keep up a first person narrative without Cassel actually divulging his plan to the reader. So it’s impossible to have an inkling of what he might do and whether it might work. It’s genius.

As is the prose! Amazing descriptions, turns of the phrase, witty ironic snarky remarks, banter… There are beautiful passages, but they sting. There are horrid passages, but you can’t help but admire the way they are crafted. It’s like a paranormal noir thriller of sorts. Holly Black’s writing punches a hole into your heart at times, but you will love her for it.

All in all I love this book to bits. The plot is incredibly well-crafted, the characters fully fleshed-out, the pace gripping and the prose sharp and unique. It’s full of twists and turns and uncertainties but things resolve nicely, though the reader has to figure out plenty on his/her own. It’s a great conclusion that also leaves an opening for the reader’s own imagination or a possible bonus story (please, Holly Black?). I can only recommend these books to anyone who loves their YA with a little more off an edge!

I could have gone on and one about Cassel and his attitude to his ability and to Lila etc etc but that would be more interpretation than review. I really seem to be unable to keep them short, but I blame Holly Black for writing a book that is too good to be written of(f) with just a few short paragraphs.

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What did you think of Black Heart? Was it a good conclusion of the series for you guys? Do you want more? You can also share your thoughts of the other books. I love your comments :)


  1. I've read other books by her and absolutely love them. I haven't gotten a chance to read this series yet. I will have to check them out! Thanks!

  2. I have heard a lot about this author but haven't had the chance to read her books. From the look of your review this book sounds quite interesting. I would definitely be reading this series! Thanks for sharing it with us!

    1. You really should give her a try! I think the prose she writes is fearless, and this series really stands out among other YA books!

  3. I read the first book in this series and really liked it! I'm glad to read that the last book is so good! I've read other Holly Black books and think she's a terrific author. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book!