Cassel Sharpe – a high school junior. At the beginnin of the book, he believes that he’s the only non-worker in his family and that he murdered Lila. He is suspicious of everyone and thinks friendships are just about tallying favors and getting even on those favors. Was taught how to con by his mother. He cons lots of people and is the school bookie (bets are on things like which teachers will hook up and who will kill the resident mouse). Sam is his roommate. He discovers early on he’s been worked. Maura helps him figure this out. He plants charms into his legs (the gross idea stems form something even grosser – which probably isn’t really necessary to remember later) to help protect him from being worked.
When he was little, he and Lila were friends. Then, he fell for her. And she started to date Barron. Then he thought he murdered her – even though he had no memory of it. Barron has been working his memory so that Cassel wouldn’t remember what really happened. Figures it all out and plans out a con to get even and expose Anton. It basically works – but true to most of Cassel’s cons that we see, something goes a little off. He ends up being told by Zacharov that Zacharov will let Cassel’s brothers live as long as Cassel works for Zacharov.
At the end, Lila comes over and he thinks his dream is coming true – she wants to be with him, they kiss, but then Cassel learns from his mom that mom worked Lila into loving Cassel. He gets back into school and will spend his senior year with Sam and Daneca, at least as of the end of this installment.
Mom Sharpe – an emotions worker. Was in on the whole thing. Grandpa thinks its because she was protecting Cassel. She’s in prison for almost all of the book. She works Lila at the end.
Philip – Cassel’s older brother. Married to Maura. So greedy for money that he takes to assassinating people, by using Cassel and Lila, with Anton. Still working for Zacharov at the end. Cassel tried to protect him, despite being angry with him, but Philip hates Cassel at the end anyway.
Lila Zacharov – the White Cat. She was transformed by Cassel when Anton and Philip tried to kill her years ago. Cassel couldn’t do it, turned her into a cat instead and told her to run. She was to be the heir to the crime family and that is why Anton wanted her out of the way (since as nephew he would be heir instead if she was gone).
Mr. Zacharov – head of the Zacharov crime family. Knows Grandpa. Lila’s father. Thinks at the beginning that Lila is missing since Cassel’s brothers hid the body.
Sam Yu – Cassel’s roommate and friend. Learns the truth at the end, all of it. Helps Cassel and Lila set up Anton in the end. Also helps with Cassel’s betting operation while Cassel is away from school.
Daneca Wasserman – Sam’s girlfriend. Friend to Cassel. Her mom may play some part in a later book because of the organization/movement she leads on behalf of workers. Don’t think Daneca has any powers.
Grandpa – a death worker. Knew about Cassel being worked but really seems to have Cassel’s best interests in mind. Helps protect Cassel by killing Anton at the big showdown.
Barron – Cassel’s other brother. He’s a memory worker. He has been working Cassel and Maura. The blowback he experiences has stripped him of his own memories and he keeps notebooks to keep track of what he can’t remember. He was in law school but dropped out. At the end, he says he’s going to go back to school.
Maura – Philips wife and mother of their child. She’s being worked by Barron. She hears music (as part of the working being done to her?) and drops one of the first clues that Cassel is in fact a worker. She runs away at the end.
Audrey – Cassel’s ex-girlfriend. She causes a fight at a party by kissing Cassel. She attends the HEX meeting at the end.
Main Premise: Cassel thinks he’s a murder, but it turns out he’s been worked. The trio of Philip, Barron and Anton have been using Cassel and Lila (who is the White Cat, turned into the cat by Cassel even though Cassel doesn’t remember doing it) to assassinate people for money. The big score, which is the first step in Cassel figuring it all out, is coming up. When Cassel gets kicked out of school, orchestrated by the trio, Cassel overhears things, discovers Lila is the cat, reverses the curse, and figures out a way to keep from being worked. Cassel is supposed to kill Lila’s father, but he won’t do it and Lila won’t either. They work out a plan to save Zacharov and expose all. And it basically works. Zacharov is saved, Lila is back with her father, Cassel isn’t being worked anymore by his brothers, grandpa killed Anton, and we’ll have to see what happens next school year.
Other Important Things to Remember for Later: Cassel’s mom knows the head of the Zacharov crime family. As a thank you for rescuing his brothers, mom worked Lila. Since mom is an emotional worker, she was able to work Lila into loving Cassel. When Cassel asks his mom to undo it, his mom reminds him that if she undoes it, Lila won’t ever be the same. She tells him that Lila will either hate him or he can let it wear off, but Lila will still never be the same – or feel the same way for Cassel. And this is upsetting, to say the least, to Cassel. Lila’s father says Cassel is his – works for the family. Barron was conned by Cassel – since Barron’s blowback has caused Barron to lose his memory, Cassel used that to re-write the notebooks Barron relies on to remember things and Cassel wrote the relationship Cassel used to want with Barron. But Cassel is furious with Barron for the role he played in the whole affair. Philip says he hates Cassel and will get even for Maura running away with their child. Daneca’s mom is part of the movement to get workers their rights back and wants Cassel to help. Transformation workers are extremely rare. One of the girls that Cassel went to school (Audrey) with might be a worker – it’s not revealed as such, but I just get that feeling.
Review: This is an interesting little book. It reminded me a little of the Casters series (Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness). It was similar since it is told from the boys perspective. It’s also about magic workers. It also feels a little disjointed at times. The similarities end there though. It’s not really the love story that the Casters series is. And there doesn’t seem to be as much to the story – or the story telling. Holly Black hooked me on her stuff with the Tithe series but this didn’t feel like it lived up to the standard set but that series.
The descriptions of the world were mediocre. It was interesting to see our world with the twist that “workers” being known to all is. The idea that everyone runs around with gloves was funny to me – why would the ability be limited to the skin on your hands? That was the biggest issue that I had with the plot. That and the identity of the cat was really very obvious from the start. So, it wasn’t a surprise to see that revealed so early in the book (I admit, that was actually a nice change – to not have to wait until the end to get that piece of information). Where I think the book was lacking was how it was told from Cassel’s perspective but he fills in holes without sharing the thought process with the reader. He also has no problem believing who the cat is, after all his stress earlier on. I guess that could be explained by his experience in the world that was built, but as the reader, I wanted that same information.
There is plenty going on here to continue the story. And despite my desire to have gotten more background, more descriptions, more… well, more, that is a good sign. Since I wanted more. There was enough to keep me interested, and I managed to plug in many of the holes myself. I just have to hope that the way I plugged in the holes won’t come back to haunt me later in this series. It was interesting to see a world of something supernatural and have the main characters be not the best people. Part of my disappointment came from how accepting Cassel was of all that he had done and of all that Lila will do when she takes over her father’s crime family. The moral repercussions, the guilt, the feelings of betrayal, the anger, they are all missing and I think that would make Cassel much more likable. So that the last page would have made me feel more outrage.
The twists and turns and secrets all come unravelled. I liked that. I know that there is more in the series – especially given the very end – but I loved that the little story here was solved. I love serials that are linked and related but give me some closure at the end of each installment, like this one did.
Ms. Black’s writing wasn’t as elegant as with Tithe. But maybe that’s what happens when you get something from the boys perspective. It wasn’t terrible, just not as pretty and easy. I saw a review which called it gritty – but I don’t think it was that either. It was more… juvenile. Or maybe my expectations are just higher since there seem to be so much wonderful in the YA genre lately.
The plot here goes like this: in this world, there are workers who can do magic with a touch of their finger or hand. So everyone wears gloves. Cassel murdered a girl a few years ago and has trouble staying in any particular school. His family is filled with workers and mom is in jail for working and working a con on someone. But he is the only non-worker in his family. He almost gets kicked out of school and ends up back home with his grandfather and brother while the school decides what to do. Meanwhile, he ends up with a cat. Without major spoiling, there is more to the cat. And his memory has been worked. As he pieces it all together, events having to do with the major crime family (of workers), who happen to be the family of the girl he killed, unfold.
It was a quick little read – read it in about 5 hours. And I liked it enough I will read what comes next. But it wasn’t so great that I to cause me to rush out to get it the day it’s published.