(2011) Holly Black, Gollancz, £12.99, pbk, 272pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09676-9
“You are only a finger tip away from another world” to quote the blurb on the front of Red Glove, the cover of which is almost taken up entirely by a dripping red hand. What could be dripping of those fingertips, I wonder? Here, we are in book two of Holly Black’s young adult series, The Curse Workers, following on from book one, White Cat, and the reason it was called that was because our hero, Cassel Sharpe’s love Lila, had been turned into a white cat. She does what it says on the tin. Now she’s human again (although acting a little strange, but hey, being a cat for years can do that to a person), except she seems to be under a curse placed by his own mother to love him, so how can he trust her, or trust anyone, even himself, as one of his brothers is playing with his memories because he is the most powerful curse worker there is, with the ability to transform things just by touch. If he could just get his head around this, and everything else that’s happening things might be okay. Talk about believing what an unreliable narrator tells you, well how can you, when he doesn’t even believe himself?
Black has taken the notion that back in the days of Prohibition; it wasn’t only alcohol that was outlawed, but magic. Years later, people are free to drink alcohol, but practising magic is against the law, and has come under the control of the mob. Curses work by touch, so everyone wears gloves, even if they can do magic, or not.
If you have not read White Cat then I would suggest you start there as Black has forged new ground with a series that combines magic and the mob, moving away completely from her previous modern faerie tale trilogy Tithe, Valiant and Ironside. It would be a shame not to start at the beginning, but for those of you in the know, Cassel is still struggling to deal with his lot in life, his own powers, those of his other family members and the knowledge that Lila might not really love him after all. He has to get away from her, and while he is having a hard time dealing with his mother and what she has done, he is glad to be able to go to Atlantic City and pull off a few cons. Not that this respite lasts long as things are just about to go from bad to worse. Lila has enrolled at his school and is homing in, and he is about to be told that his eldest brother, Phillip, is killed, and the feds want Cassel to help them find his killer, as the only clue they have is some video footage of a woman wearing red gloves. But other mobsters have designs on Cassel and his curse-making abilities. He is the young adult in the middle, trying to keep all sides happy, be good when the pressure on him is to be bad, while also solving the murder of his brother. He wants to do the right thing, but it is difficult when the rest of your family make their living out of crime.
While not the most pacy read in the world, Red Glove ticks along nicely by mixing an original concept, colourful characters, a conflicted central character, with witty dialogue and some unanswered questions, and unresolved plot points, not to mention a really good mystery which will keep the reader guessing the identity of the killer to the end. Or at least it kept me guessing to the end, sharper minds might have got there earlier. Roll on book three, Black Heart. Sounds ominous, doesn't it.
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