Review: Red Glove

I’m going to let you know up front that if you haven’t read White Cat yet, you should go do that tout de suite. It’s the first book in the Curse Workers series, and Red Glove is the second book. In this series, Holly Black sets up a world almost exactly like our own, but with one big difference: there are people called curse workers who each have a sort of magical power. There are emotion workers, luck workers, memory workers, dream workers, death workers, and rarest of all, transformation workers. A lot of fantasy books go overboard with the amount of cool magical shit they try to cram in, and they sometimes suffer for it. Much of the beauty of what Black has done here is that it’s so simple, but she’s fully thought out the consequences of curse workers existing. Everyone wears gloves all the time because workers give a curse with the touch of their hand, and you don’t know who could be a worker. A bare hand is risque and dangerous. There’s an anti-worker political movement and a worker’s rights counter-movement, and many workers have formed mobster families because working is illegal. The setting is modern, but these things make it feel very noir and gritty, as if parts of it came right out of the 1940s.

Cassel Sharpe is our protagonist, and at the end of the last book he uncovered a terrible secret about himself and his worker family.

Minor spoilers for Red Glove under the cut.

One of the most fascinating things about this book for me was Cassel’s deveopment. In White Cat, Cassel was pretty much your typical hero. He may have come from a family of grifters, but he doesn’t like conning people and he tries to keep his nose clean. He finds out at the end of the book that he’s actually a transformation worker, but that his brothers Philip and Barron have been using him to carry out hits and then working him to make him forget. It’s easy to sympathize with Cassel, because he’s been used; he’s a victim. However, in Red Glove, Cassel’s motivations become much more questionable. Someone has murdered his brother Philip, and Cassel starts to wonder whether he could have done it and had Barron work him to forget. He thinks about what it means that he agreed to kill all those people, even if he can’t remember why he did it, and starts to wonder what else he might do, given the circumstances. Cassel travels a pretty dark road in this book, becoming more of an anti-hero. Cassel becomes convinced that he’s a bad person, that he’ll always do the wrong thing, and even that he likes doing the wrong thing.

This is most evident in the way Cassel and Lila’s relationship unfolds. You may remember that Lila spent most of the last book as a cat, but Cassel was able to transform her back into a human. Oh, and they find out that Cassel’s mom, who is an emotion worker, cursed Lila to love Cassel (What? She was just doing her son a favor!), so their whole relationship is a sham. The whole “cursed to love someone” thing is a great concept. It reminds me of one of my favorite books from childhood, Ella Enchanted. Nobody wants to be in love because someone makes them, despite what their real feelings for the person may be. The tricky thing is that Cassel has real feelings for Lila, but he’s conflicted because he can never know if Lila would reciprocate those feelings if not for the curse. She tells him it’s okay, tells him it doesn’t matter, she wants to be with him anyway – and Cassel gives in. They almost have sex a couple of times, which is VERY SHADY to me, and I’m glad Black has other characters pointing out that this is a Bad Thing. Lila is not consenting to a relationship or sex because she’s been magically coerced. Luckily, Cassel’s friend Daneca busts out the R-word: rape. Daneca pretty much serves as the moral compass in the series. She has Morals and Beliefs and is a worker’s rights activist, and she tries to give Cassel the wake-up call he needs by telling him that being involved with Lila is rape, even if it doesn’t seem like it to him. Too bad it’s all for naught, because Cassel keeps going with Lila anyways, but I appreciate that Black makes it a discussion. Cassel’s in a downward spiral for most of this book, he makes a lot of very bad choices, and I think he’s going to have some serious consequences to face in the next book, especially concerning Lila.

Red Glove is like the “Empire Strikes Back” to White Cat’s “A New Hope”. The first book is great, gets you all cozy and situated, and then the second book really digs into the story and goes further than you ever imagined. The characters have to face hard truths and make impossible choices. Red Glove also really sinks its teeth into the noir genre: you’ve got the flawed anti-hero seeking redemption, grifters and the mob, and a murder mystery. You can almost picture everyone walking around in fedoras and three-piece suits. (This is why I love the detail about the gloves so much. Wearing leather gloves as everyday wear seems so old-fashioned. It’s a great touch.) Whether you’re a fan of fantasy, mystery, or even noir films, you’ll love the Curse Workers series.

Red Glove comes out on April 5th, 2011. Until then, I recommend that you go read White Cat if you haven’t already, or re-read it if you have.

And now for a VERY SPECIAL MESSAGE: Here are the dates for Holly Black’s upcoming tour promoting the book. All tour appearances will be with Cassandra Clare, who is promoting her new book, City of Fallen Angels. I met Holly at a signing about two years ago, and I can tell you that she’s super-awesome and friendly to everyone (and so beautiful!), so if you get the opportunity to attend a signing, go for it!

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