Monday, May 2, 2011

Cursed

Holly Black has yet to disappoint me. I really enjoyed her modern faerie tales as well as the short stories of hers that I've read. But I wasn't prepared for how much I liked White Cat, Book 1 in her series The Curse Workers. (I wish the series title wasn't over Cassel's face on the cover, I really want to see his eyes!) Like her modern faerie world, Black cleverly alters our own time to give it a little bit of just-possible magic. You'll never look at someone who wears gloves inside the same way ever again! (Many of the staff who handle books at my library wear gloves ... hmmm ...)

Cassel Sharpe is the youngest of three brothers and the only member of his family who isn't a worker. Workers can bring about individual magic (as minor as bad luck, as catastrophic as transformation) by touching their bare hands to the skin of another. Curse work was made illegal in 1929, so everyone wears gloves to indicate that they aren't a worker. Curse work and workers who continue to practice have been co-opted by the mob, who demand unswerving loyalty. Even though Cassel isn't a worker, his emotion-worker mother initiated him into a life of petty crime and grifting. She's now in prison, and Cassel boards at an exclusive prep school because three years earlier he killed Lila, the girl he loved. He's not really sure what happened, except that his brothers took care of it. Lila was the daughter of a big crime boss, Zacharov. Now, Cassel runs a lucrative betting pool at Wallingford and tries to forget about Lila.

Until he wakes up teetering on the roof of his dormitory, without any idea how he got there. He was dreaming about a white cat ...

Whew! I loved this book. I loved Cassel and I really loved the long con that builds up over the course of about a week in the story. Like a good caper movie, I just sat back and waited for the information to dribble in, knowing that the payoff will be good (unlike the movie I saw yesterday, whose ending was not as good as its buildup). I was in the car as the novel came to its fun, exciting conclusion and yes ... I had a driveway moment, or rather a parking lot moment. I'm torn between immediately reading Book 2, Red Glove, or waiting until the third installment appears and then inhaling them in quick succession.

To top off the great story, it is perfectly matched to its narrator, Jesse Eisenberg. The actor -- who occasionally seems nerdy and uncomfortable in his skin in "real life," not just in character -- reads Cassel's narrative as a confused, self-hating, kid brother hopped up on caffeine. Eisenberg's high voice and halting delivery embody Cassel's uncertainty and the world of hurt in which he lives. And yet, he's so sly ... forget at your peril that he's a con man. I liked listening to Eisenberg read with increasing confidence as Cassel gets smarter, figures out what happened to him, and takes action.

Eisenberg doesn't get fancy. There's very little voicing in the novel, although following conversations isn't difficult. He's pretty good at girls -- giving them slightly higher voices without getting all femmy. He's not entirely confident in speaking with a Russian accent, this comes and goes. But his overall performance of the novel is completely engaging, I was with him from start to finish.

In this video, Black and Eisenberg talk briefly about the book. He is most definitely not a slumming movie star, and he talks a little bit about what he likes about narrating a book. Still, I can't think of many exclusively screen actors who have ever made such a smooth transition to audiobooks. Now I want to go out and see all his movies.

White Cat (The Curse Workers, Book 1) by Holly Black
Narrated by Jesse Eisenberg
Listening Library, 2010. 6:40

[This image found by searching Google Images and is from memegenerator.]

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