Sunday, October 7, 2012

Review: Black Heart

Title: Black Heart (Curse Workers book 3)
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Romance, Fantasy
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.5/5 stars)


Once upon a time, I mentally festooned Holly Black with the Goddess of Fictional World-Building sash when she gave me two tickets to her alternate universes, also known as the official receipts for my copies of White Cat and Red Glove. After finishing Black Heart, the third installment of this underrated trilogy, I figured I’ll have to give her a trophy now because she totally wrapped this series up nicely—and not just in the setting development part.

A brief peek for those who don’t know what this series is all about: Cassel Sharpe comes from a (dysfunctional) family of con artists and “workers,” or people who can control your emotions, dreams, luck, and memories, alter your physical condition, kill you, and even transform you into anyone or anything with just a touch of their fingertips. This is why ungloved hands are deemed as dangerous as unsheathed knives and why workers are commonly considered as criminals. Cassel, after many years of believing he’s the only non-worker in the family, finds out in the worst possible way that he’s the most powerful worker in his generation: he has the power of transformation.  White Cat and Red Glove revolve around Cassel’s once nondescript-turned-extraordinary life when it was peppered with problems involving his deceptive brothers, his ‘engineered’ memories, some murder mysteries, his love life, and his future. Black Heart deals mostly with the last two.

I have to confess, it took me a while to get myself to write a review for this book because it rendered me incoherent for a few days. First, because it’s the conclusion of one of my favorite trilogies out there—surely, you bookworms know how hard it is to say good bye to your beloved stories (Last Book Hangover, anyone?). Second, I initially can’t form a concrete verdict because the things I love about it and the things I’m disappointed with in it are trying to eclipse each other. And third, I keep rereading and rereading parts of it so I can resolve reason number 2.

When I finally broke it down, I think the best thing about this series is still the world-building. I’ve encountered stories whose authors try to establish lands of make-believe that end up too shabbily constructed that they appear cartoonish against the “serious” plots they accompany. Black’s is not like that. Her intelligent, multi-plotted story fits the world she crafted with utmost care. If she ever pens spin-offs set in the same universe, I’d gladly surrender my whole purse and piggy bank to immediately acquire copies of those.

Character-wise, Cassel’s growth seems barely noticeable, but it is there. I’m thinking his development has not been that obvious to me because there are moments I got a tad annoyed with him for being such a cheesy lovesick lad, so, my bad. Anyway, I think he’s still a good albeit unreliable narrator. I love how the readers have access to his mind but he still gets to keep the major stuff behind closed doors and reveal them for climax (this is attributable to Black’s storytelling prowess, which we’ll touch later). What I’m not so happy about is Lila’s character. I used to love this soon-to-be mob princess in the previous books—I even love Lila Zacharov in 13 Pieces!—but my hopes for a fully-developed feminine character were crushed. I was expecting her to be explosively powerful, not just an entity that was breathed into life with foundationless adoration. The other characters were molded fine, though I think they are not particularly memorable.

If I were to rank all the books in the trilogy based on the best plots, Black Heartwould come second, right next to White Cat. Black played the conman-turned-FBI agent angle very well, but whatever magic she put to focus on this, she didn’t apply it on the minor plotlines. Unresolved mysteries involving an important gem, clouded identities, half-baked new characters, and a seemingly misplaced storyline about blackmail are just some of the rough story fragments strewn throughout the book. Questions crop up upon the introduction of a new issue, but almost all of them remained unanswered till the end. The major plot’s still satisfying, though.

I guess aside from world-building, the other thing I liked the most about this is Black’s writing style. The way she writes in simple vocabulary contrasts brightly against the intricate twists she puts into the story’s major plot. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, I commend how she can deftly let us into a con artist’s mind—including most of his plans—but still manage to surprise us when the biggest secrets are finally unveiled.

Over all, I still think this is a very good read. :)

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