Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blowback

This summer, when I reported on Holly Black's Red Glove I said that "I don't want to wait" for the audio version of her third book in The Curse Workers to show up in the catalog, and so I would promptly eye-read it.  So much for that vow.  (I lost my reading mojo this year -- poor concentration abetted by a lotta bad books I had to read and the availability of too many DVDs -- so my New Year's resolution is to get it back.)  Dear reader, five months later, I found Black Heart on the audiobook shelves and tossed it in the ears.  I am, of course, glad I did.

(A digression: I don't like the "new" covers of these books.  Each features Lila Zacharov, beloved of series hero Cassel Sharpe. Unlike the estimable Kimberly and Kelly of Stacked -- who critically and entertainingly examine the covers of books written for young adults -- I think of a book cover [unless it is egregiously bad or outstandingly good] as the thing you flip to the left so you can get to the good part. But having spent the year I lost my reading mojo reading almost nothing but first-time authors for young adults and finding them overwhelmingly intended to appeal to young women, it seems to me that any book that might be of even the smallest interest to young men will have difficulty attracting these readers if a female graces the cover. Particularly if said female is surrounded by swoopy lines of hair. On the other hand, the "original" covers of Red Glove and White Cat aren't exactly screaming "manly." So, really, what do I know?)

Spoilers here if you haven't read Books 1 and 2. Black Heart picks up the tale of the star-crossed Cassel and Lila after Cassel has been recruited by the Feds to go undercover in the curse-work-fueled mob led by Lila's father. Lila herself now wears the necklace-like scars that mark her as a full-fledged member of the Zacharov gang. Curse workers can change you -- make you fall in love, make you forget, make you something else entirely -- with a touch of their bare hands. Cassel is a one-of-a-kind curse worker: He can transform with his touch, turning his girlfriend into a cat or an enemy into a table. Both the Feds and the mob think that Cassel's curse can be turned to their advantage.  Blowback, the debilitating physical reaction to working someone, can come in more than one form.

All Cassel tries to do is the right thing. He loves Lila but believes that she only loves him back because she was worked by his mother to do so. His best friends are fighting but when Cassel intervenes he only seems to make things worse. His older brother claims to be a federal agent, but he's a notorious liar. The Feds are sending mixed signals. And his mother -- after publicly working the Governor of New Jersey -- has vanished. To top it off, the Governor wants to bring back internment camps for workers, for their own safety, of course. Listen as he tries to balance all of this and graduate from high school.

Like Black's other two titles, Black Heart is a delightful long con, with Cassel's nebbishy exterior and angsty musings offering just the right distraction. The plot is pretty convoluted and I'm still not sure I believe that Cassel's con would have worked, but it certainly entertains and concludes the story of Cassel and Lila in an entirely satisfactory (if a wee bit shocking) way.

While engaging, what makes these books rise above is the narration by Jesse Eisenberg. He's really quite perfect as socially awkward, eager-to-please Cassel, with his high, worried voice and occasionally halting and nervous delivery. But he also gives you a picture of the confident con man who lies underneath, taking cool command of the narration as he takes command of the narrative. When things look particularly bleak for Cassel, panic and uncertainty are audible. And when Cassel and Lila finally kiss and head discreetly and tenderly to bed, Eisenberg's longing and love for her is perfectly clear in his delivery. It's a lovely performance. I'd very much like to hear him read something else.

And speaking of listening to a narrator again, I went back through all 632 posts this week and added the narrator(s) as a label, so I can more easily see when I've listened to someone before. This exercise was occasionally amusing since I never actually mentioned a narrator by name in a couple of instances. (The Audiobook Jukebox helped out.) I was actually surprised at how many narrators have only one entry in my labels; I thought I'd see more instances of readers I'd listened to over and over again.  Many of the narrators who show up regularly are because I'm listening to them read a series (Katherine Kellgren/Bloody Jack and Christopher Evan Welch/The Last Apprentice most notably).  Kellgren shows up eight other times, but it's my main narrator man, Dion Graham, who leads the pack with 11 non-series books! 

I'd also like to give a shoutout to Kirby Heyborne with seven (soon to be eight) titles. Heyborne never comes to mind as a narrator I seek out to listen to, but -- despite his tics -- he's reliably good.  He does excellent work in a book I hope to get around to posting on this weekend. Nick Dunne is to Kirby Heyborne what Cassel Sharpe is to Jesse Eisenberg -- a character no one else can voice quite so effectively.   I am one of those people who doesn't watch commercial television except when trapped in a hotel room, so I got a little frisson of audiobookishness at seeing Heyborne what felt like every five minutes over Thanksgiving weekend as he cheerfully shilled for Target.

[Alas, this New Jersey Governor who has to wear his name on his clothes was not worked by Cassel's mom, although Bruce Springsteen substituted nicely. Walter Burns took this photo of Chris Christie and I retrieved it from Wikimedia Commons.]

Black Heart (The Curse Workers, Book 3) by Holly Black
Narrated by Jesse Eisenberg
Listening Library, 2012. 6:34

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