Cassel comes from a family of Curse Workers - people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn't got magic, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail - he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.
Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to outcon the conmen.
Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic, where a single touch can bring love - or death - and your dreams might be more real than your memories.
Cassel's family Is. Messed. Up. Seriously. His mother is in prison, his father is dead, and his brothers are liars. He's the only one without magic in his family so he learned other things so he could feel connected: how to be a con artist. He's a pretty good liar and is absolutely scared to death that somebody will figure him out. But all that's okay because his life has been pretty normal and routine. Until the cat shows up and then everything gets tossed upside down.
I liked Cassel but mostly I just felt sorry for him. He worshiped his oldest brother, Philip, as a kid but could never get his affection and eventually spent most of his time being uberjealous of his other brother, Barron, who Philip noticed and respected. His mother is a sociopath who can manipulate emotions and used Cassel to steal things for her. The only person in his family that seems to genuinely care about his welfare and well-being is his grandfather, who lives not exactly nearby in another town. Put that together and what do you get? A smart seventeen year old who becomes his boarding school's bookie who craves normalcy.
But that's not his biggest problem - he can't get over how he murdered his best friend, Lila. That's obviously the worst possible thing you could live with, being responsible for the death of your best friend, the girl you loved. See, Cassel's actually a decent person, filled with self-loathing as he is and bookie hobby aside. He feels remorse when he hurts others. He loves his family even though they're pretty much horrible people (except for Grandpa). But he can't get past what he did to Lila.
Holly Black has yet again created a flawed yet honorable protagonist who can be a hero. Like Kaye and Val from her Faerie series, Cassel learns he is strong enough to stand up on his own and fight. I have to say also that these people that Cassel knows and is related to are particularly horrible. Many of them are mobsters, true, and are probably not nice on their best days, but still. I was appalled at what they did to Cassel and each other and out of all of them, his mother may be the worst. Don't expect much in the way of redemption in this book, folks. It just isn't there. I will be interested in what happens to Cassel in the next book though. Holly's livejournal blog says that the sequel is called Red Glove. I imagine it'll be out this time next year.