Cassel Sharpe's life is a chaotic one, even when matters have improved. And everything seems to be circling the drain in "Red Glove," which is even more taut and electrifying than Holly Black's first Curse Workers book. One part murder mystery, one part mob thriller, and one part tale of a good-hearted boy mired in a shadow world of deception.
Cassel's first day back at Wallingford is ruined by two things. One: Lila is now enrolled at his school, and she's still cursedly in love with him. Two: the FBI drags him in, revealing that his brother Philip has been murdered -- and since he had turned informant, they want his murderer. All they know is that it was a woman, and she was wearing red gloves.
Soon Cassel is trapped between the feds and the worker mobster Zacharov, both of whom want him to come work for them. And as he tries to keep his secret, keep his family from being arrested, and solve his brother's murder, Cassel begins to suspect that someone close to him murdered Philip -- and he's not sure what to do about it.
"Red Glove" is technically an urban fantasy, but it's really more like "supernatural suspense." We've got FBI agents, mobsters, teen love, lies, false memories and a young man walking the tightrope between right and wrong -- and even worse, between the amoral forces that want to use his powers for their own ends.
Black's story is tightly plotted, with lots of little hints and subplots that she ties off neatly, while still leaving the door open for the third book. She has sharply electric prose ("A glittering choker of dried blood") and dryly witty dialogue (""You're a pretty cool customer, huh?" "I hide my inner pain under my stoic visage").
And she takes some time out in the middle of the story to explore what a world with workers would be like: some people defend their rights, while others don't care about rights as long as they feel "safe" and the government is in control.
Cassel is still a "leopard pretending to be a housecat" -- a young man raised among criminals and grifters, but who still desperately wants to do the right thing, but keeps getting yanked back into MoralAmbiguityville. Black also fleshes out his conflicted, fiery love interest Lila, whose love for him may or may not be real, as well as his friends Sam and Daneca.
Holly Black might as well be a curse worker herself, because "Red Glove" is a spellbinding experience that wrenches your emotions and your gut.