Spotlight: The Curseworker Trilogy by Holly Black


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CW’s: Violence, Murder, Abuse

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.

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Why the Curseworker books are amazing ❤

“But now I wonder–what if everyone is pretty much the same and it’s just a thousand small choices that add up to the person you are? No good or evil, no black and white, no inner demons or angels whispering the right answers in our ears like it’s some cosmic SAT test. Just us, hour by hour, minute by minute, day by day,making the best choices we can. The thought is horrifying. If that’s true, then there’s no right choice. There’s only choice.” 

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Cassel Sharpe is such a well-written main character The more I got into the books, the more I loved Cassel! I feel like Holly Black is so good at writing morally grey main characters and exploring their depths, guilt and struggles. As I’m always a fan of that, I was really intrigued by Cassel. He’s more of the anti-hero, as he did some very bad things and literally grew up in a criminal family, who always runs cons, so you could say he was raised into this life. What makes him so endearing is that Cassel lives with a lot of guilt, convinced he is a monster for the mistakes in his life, even though he’s also very loyal to his family and friends despite what they did as well. I liked that the author explored his personal struggles with what he did and how he had many conflicting loyalties as well. It really made Cassel a character you could root for, because you also saw his sarcasm, dedication to family, logical thinking and fierceness. Throughout the books he also becomes less distanced and more involved in his friendships, figuring out that not everything is a power game.

The many dysfunctional families were so interesting The main one is Cassel’s family full of Curseworkers that run cons and are generally involved in a lot of illegal actions. They are all very messy and especially Cassel is suffering because he always has a special position in the family. Like in the beginning he is pretty much the black sheep as he has no powers in a family of curseworkers. His mom is especially horrendous, as she is shown to be abusive at times and I was kind of glad that she wasn’t present as much. His brothers are certainly not warm and fuzzy, instead there were definitely a rivalry between them and Cassel. I kind of hated Philip, Cassel’s oldest brother, but I found Barron to be especially intriguing. He is of course a bad guy, a compulsive liar and also a sociopath, but there are a few reasons you kind of feel bad of him as well, even though he was involved in a lot of horrible stuff. He just gets more and more interesting in the following books, as we see a few different side of him, making us question if he indeed has deep feelings. I loved Cassel and his messed up relationship! Meanwhile I also loved Cassel’s grandfather who was very close to him, I loved the bond they both had!! In general, the family is pretty messed up, but even after everything Cassel still can’t quite let go of them and protects them even when tehy did horrible things and a lot of people would have probably quit by now. The Zacharov family – a big mafia family of Curseworkers – isn’t any better. There are a lot of dysfunctional families all round!

The book raises a lot of questions about morality Good and bad aren’t as easily identified here and there are A LOT of gray areas that most of the characters operate in. Almost everyone has many sides to them, not all of them good. Especially the curseworkers, who are considered bad by society, seem to often fall into criminal activities no matter how much they try not to. In the end you can both hate and love certain characters, root for them and get angry the next second. I really love that the good and bad guys were not as easily discerned and instead the lines between both sides were very blurry, The supposed good guys weren’t so good after all, but also the bad guys could be really good.

I loved that friendship was also a theme Like I said, Cassel grows closer to some of his classmates, after he figures out that friendship is not the power game that he grew up thinking it would be. Sam and Daneca are excellent secondary characters that add a lot to the books! Sam is Cassel’s roommate and later becomes his best friend (even though Cassel would probably deny that). He’s just a normal human, but gets a bit involved when he gets closer to Cassel. However, he is a very good guy, one of the most pure in the entire Series. Daneca is an activist fighting for worker rights and constantly annoys Cassel, as she wants him to join her mission. I loved how determined and stubborn she was. She is not one to give up and has a lot of passion for what she believes in. Eventually Cassel comes to think of her as a friend, because she does grow on him. I loved that friendship was also a prominent theme. I did find the romance element interesting as well, but I feel like the friendships evoked more feeling in me.

The Worldbuilding is so amazing and imaginative! I LOVED the world building, as it’s just so very interesting and had quite a lot of unique element to offer. The books are set in our world, where magic disappeared and now only the Curseworkers can command it. That makes them the ‘bad guys’ of society, as they can manipulate everyone by touching them with their hands. Obviously this evokes a lot of fear in the common people, which is why everyone wears gloves and there are a lot of politicians who want to have every worker registered. I liked that this political element was such a big part of the book, as we of course see that such a law would  single out workers and make it possible to target them, as the information would always leak, no matter how the authorities claim it  would be confidential., The workers themselves are often involved in crime and are more of the outcasts, as some are rejected by their families and have no choice but to work for some of the big mafia families. I found the worker magic to be very unique, as they can manipulate 7 elements: luck, memory, dream, emotion, body, death and transformation! Of course there is always a blowback for using their power, that means consequences in the form of the element the person can control. That was very cool and a realistic magic system, which really stood out to me.

The High Stakes Plot left me reeling The books all were very suspenseful and also had a certain mystery element that made them so intriguing. Some twists didn’t really surprise me, but what the books do well is always having high stakes and consequences for the characters, so that I couldn’t help but fear for Cassel and co. because I never quite knew how things would end! Every book was very intense with the plotline, as there is always the threat hovering over Cassel’s head and he can never truly be save now, instead always watching his back. That certainly made me very invested in the story as I needed to see how things turned out for him in the end.

“The funny thing about good people—people like Daneca—is that they really honestly don’t get the impulse toward evil. They have an incredibly hard time reconciling with the idea that a person who makes them smile can still be capable of terrible things. Which is why, although she’s accusing me of being a murderer, she seems more annoyed than actually worried about getting murdered. Daneca seems to persist in a belief that if I would just listen and understand how bad my bad choices are, I’d stop making them.”

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Have you read the Curseworker books? Who is your favorite character? What Holly Black book should I read next? (I already read the Cruel Prince) ❤


13 thoughts on “Spotlight: The Curseworker Trilogy by Holly Black

  1. Wow Caro! What a review! I love characters who are in shades of grey LOL And no this is the first time that I hear of this series!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great review for the series Caro; admittedly I had to skim some of it because I’ve only read the first book, and I read it so long ago I’ve forgotten pretty much everything about it (including the name of the MC which I only realised when I read your review).
    But honestly just reading this and seeing how much you’ve loved this series means I need to add it back to my TBR list and get started on it as soon as possible.
    It sounds like the family dynamic is an interesting one, and the fact that you called out the world building already has me convinced (if there’s one thing I love it’s good world building)! 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!! 💕 I totally feel you, some books I have read soo long ago that I can barely remember what happened and I often forget names then too 😄
      Ah thank you, that makes me so happy to hear! 😍 The family dynamic is such a great one and really interesting as it is so messy! The worldbuilding is also fantastic and immediately had me hooked. Hope you enjoy the book when you read it! 💕

      Liked by 1 person

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