Friday, 28 March 2014

Black Heart (Curse Workers #3) by Holly Black

Publication date: 3rd April 2012
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: Crime mystery/Fantasy (YA)

Caution: may contain spoilers from books 1 & 2.

Publisher's Synopsis
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...

My Review
Black Heart is the final book to the Curse Workers series by Holly Black.  It follows on from Red Glove (which was preceded by White Cat).

The plot for Black Heart was introduced in Red Glove and focuses on Cassel's mother who is in trouble with a powerful politician and with the head of the mob.  When she outlines the situation for Cassel, once again, it is up to him to fix it.

Cassel continues to struggle with his decision about what to do with his life after graduation - whether he should work for the Feds or the mob.  This is complicated further by Lila's aspirations to become her father's successor.

There is an interesting development to Sam and Daneca's relationship when a third party comes between them.

The climax centres on a very tricky situation that Cassel has to find a way out of and the resolution is very clever indeed.

[Potential spoiler alert:  While reading I found myself thinking how great it would be if, for a change, the female character would swoop in on her white horse and do the saving....  End of Spoiler alert.]

The Curse Workers has officially become my second* favourite fantasy fiction series.  If, like me, you like your YA fantasy leaning towards the dark side, you'll most likely enjoy it.  All 3 books are consistent in standard of quality: intrigue, page-turnability, plot rigor etc. 

Holly Black has officially become SBRs' YA fantasy fiction author to read for review (author of our time, that is).  I know I keep saying this but her writing is intelligent without being too intellectually challenging (in a world - let's face it - where being smart just ain't where it's at). I also love that, unlike most of her contemporaries, her books not only address serious issues like the social class divide and gender inequality, they also embrace diversity.  Thank you Holly Black.

For more reviews of books by Holly, check out my Author's index.

*My all time favourite being Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor

Publication date: 29th September 2011
Published by: Hodder & Stoughton
Genre: Fantasy/Romance (YA)

Publisher's Synopsis
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky. 

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war. 

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages--not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out. 

When one of the strangers--beautiful, haunted Akiva--fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

My Review
This novel turned out to be a very pleasant surprise indeed!  I don't know why I was expecting another Twilightesque story but it turns out nothing is further from the truth.

This one has an original plot that kept me interested throughout.  It is set in Prague and it captures the beauty of the city perfectly.  [I went there for a weekend break some years ago.  I don't know what I was expecting but the city turned out to be as much of a surprise as this novel was.  For me it can only be rivaled by London and Paris... and perhaps Barcelona.  Anyway, I digress!].  There is so much to love about Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  For one thing the names of the main characters - Karou and Akiva - fabulous.  For another there is so much mystery surrounding it.  Karou does not know who she is, how she came to be raised by a demon or why he keeps sending her on the oddest of missions.  Akiva is bitter and full of anguish about something.  He is strangely drawn to Karou and does not understand why.  Their first encounter is pretty explosive and simply brilliant.

The pace of the novel is excellent.  It starts out as a slow burner and picks up as the reader continues.  YA fantasy/romance lovers trust me, if you haven't read it you should. By the middle I'd be stunned if you aren't truly engrossed, and by the end if you don't hunger for more.

I'm not alone.  It has been rated by over 85K readers on Goodreads and has an average score of 4.08 out of 5.  I hasten to add that with the popular YA fantasy books I don't always agree that their high rating is warranted, but this time I agree wholeheartedly.

Seriously, get a copy.  It's treasure.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Burning Emerald by Jaime Reed

Publication date: 29th May 2012
Published by: Dafina
Genre: Fantasy (Young Adult)

** Spoiler Alert ** 
Skip synopsis and go straight to review to avoid.

My synopsis
Burning Emerald is the second book in The Cambion Chronicles  series by Jaime Reed.  I have just finished reading it for the second time (along with the rest of the series).

Living Violet, the first book, ended with the tragic death of Sam's friend Nadine.  In this book she is struggling to come to terms with her death, and cope with her new supernatural status as a Cambion, which occurred when Nadine's sentient left her body and entered Sam's as a means to survive.  Sam now has an internal 'room mate', Lilith, as well as Nadine's life energy and memories.  Nadine's mother, Angie, has taken Sam under her wing and become like a second mother,  offering her support and protection.  She tries to go back to normalcy - school and her job at Buncha Books - but this proves easier said than done.

Caleb, now a DJ, gets a gig playing at a house party on Halloween night and Samara goes along also.  While on a break, Caleb helps himself to Samara's drink. Unknown to them both, the drink has been tampered with and soon after Caleb is doubled over in pain. He is taken to hospital in critical condition and it transpires that he has been poisoned.

At school Samara is pursued by one of the popular guys, a jock named Malik Davies.  Until now he has always been mean to her but she understands that being a Cambion means she will attract the attention of most men. Malik's pusuit is relentless and it soon transpires that he isn't what he seems...

My review
Of all the books in the series this one provides the most info about Cambions; what they are, how they came into existence etc.  We learn that there is always a temptation for Cambions to feed excessively off humans and in doing so they run the risk of losing their humanity and transforming into demons.  This is what happened to Caleb's father. They are ruled by powerful families who govern territories all over the world.  Samara and Caleb live in the region where the Santiago family are in charge and the family is suspicious of Caleb because of his father. [In Living Violet they sent one of their employees, a private detective called Ruiz, to keep an eye on him and his brothers.]

Caleb is absent for much of this one and his absence was felt.  I missed his interaction with Samara, from their verbal sparing to their (reluctant) romantic exchanges.  That said, the introduction of Tobias to the story and the challenges he presents for Samara make for an intriguing plot development. But, as a demonic character, Tobias is pretty tame; if he has an evil side I did not read about it.  He preferred to take a gentle approach to getting his way and at times showed signs of his humanity (such as his relationship with Malik's little brother, albeit for selfish reasons).  In that sense, unlike Caleb's father in Living Violet, I'm not convinced that Reed demonstrated effectively through Tobias' character the difference between a demon and a Cambion.

The story ends on a cliffhanger and I enjoyed it even more the second time around.

Highly recommended.

I have also reviewed Fading Amber, the third and final instalment.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Red Glove (Curse Workers #2) by Holly Black

Publication date: 5th April 2011
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genre: Crime mystery/Fantasy (YA)

Caution: contains spoilers from Book 1 (White Cat)

My Synopsis
Red Glove is the second book to the Curse Workers series by Holly Black.  It follows on from the first novel, White Cat

At the end of the first novel Cassel Sharpe transformed Lila Zacharov back to her human form.  Lila is the love of his life but she always preferred his older brother, Baron.  To Cassel's horror his mother curses Lila to love him, which means all expressions of love on her part aren't real - ruining his chances of a genuine relationship with her.

At the start of Red Glove, Cassel is told that his oldest brother, Philip, has been killed.  Philip had been working for the Zacharov family, the mob leaders, but was forced to betray them and become an informant for the FBI.  It would seem someone found out and murdered him.

Cassel attends Philip's funeral with the moral support of his friends Sam and Daneca.  He confides as much as he can to them and they begin to investigate Philip's murder.  Soon after, Cassel is approached by Lila's father, the head of the mob, and is offered a job.  In return Zacharov offers him and his family protection.  He is also approached by the FBI who try to entice him to join them, offering to recruit him as a trainee agent after graduation.   He does not commit to either but keeps either side appeased by appearing to help them both. He will have to pick a side soon and time is running out.

In the meantime, Cassel's mother is out of prison and has resumed her career as a con artist.  She has identified a new mark - a high profile politician who is anti-curse workers and is rallying to pass a bill that would further limit their human rights and freedom. 

Cassel attempts to solve the mystery of his brother's murder, maintain a relationship with Lila while deflecting her advances, keep his troublesome family members out of trouble and his darkest secrets from his friends...

My Review
This is yet another excellent novel by Holly Black and a fantastic follow-up to White Cat.  As always with her work, it is intelligently written and never boring.  I like the cross-over of genres from fantasy into crime mystery territory.

The subplot that focuses on the relationship between Cassel and Lila is original and very well executed.  Most of us would agree that it can get boring fast if the 'lovers' of a novel come together too early in the story and irritating when the conflict to keep them apart is predictable and cliche.  In this case it is Cassel's mother's intervention that puts a stop to it and he is tormented by his love for a girl who he believes cannot genuinely return those feelings, while at the same time expresses a longing to be with him.  He finds it increasingly hard to resist the temptation to give in but realizes that Lila's absence of free will would make it wrong to do so and she would not forgive him if he took advantage of the situation .  The curse is temporary so he has no choice but to wait it out, not holding out much hope for their future when it does wear off.

I enjoyed the complexity of Cassel's situation.  He aspires to be good and wants to be on the side that will allow him to do so.  He does not want to become a hired killer.  However, it is difficult to identify where the side of good begins and evil ends (since the line separating them is somewhat blurred).  I found his relationship with his brother Baron fascinating.  On the surface it's all sibling rivalry but underneath lies a bond.  Whereas their mother is a nuisance who creates no end to problems left for Cassel to fix. 

The curse worker series is proving to be a must read.  I look forward to reviewing Black Heart, book 3.