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White Cat, Red Glove, Black Heart

December 21, 2015

A few years ago I read White Cat, a well-plotted and mostly self-contained YA story by Holly Black. In preparation for meeting her at ICFA this March, I’ve been reading everything by her that I hadn’t already read, and that turned out to include the two sequels to White Cat, Red Glove and Black Heart.

I started Red Glove in the airport on the way to see my mother. Cassel Sharpe is still at boarding school, still taking bets to make his pocket money, and still in love with Lila.

In Red Glove, Cassel is tracking down the killer of his brother Philip. I particularly like the description of Cassel’s mom’s entrance at Philip’s showing at the funeral parlor:
“The funeral director comes in with another mountain of flowers, Mom trailing him. She’s crying, mascara bleeding down her face theatrically as she points to the spot where he’s allowed to put the arrangement. Then, seeing Philip’s body for about the tenth time, she lets out a small shriek and half-collapses into a chair, sobbing into her handkerchief. A small group of women rushes over to comfort her….Mom’s putting on a show, but that doesn’t mean she’s not actually sad. It’s just that she isn’t letting her grief get in the way of her performance.”
Cassel seems very adult here, and also as he deals with the effects of Lila having been “worked” to believe she loves him:
“I want to reach out for her hand, but I don’t. It’s not fair. She’d have to take it.”

I started the last book, Black Heart, in the airport on the way back. These are excellent airplane books except that they’re such fast reads that if the flight had been longer than an hour, I’d have needed another book.

Cassel’s granddad, the “death worker,” continues to take care of him when he needs it, and gives him more fatherly advice, including that “first love’s the sweetest, but it doesn’t last.” When Cassel asks “not ever?” his granddad goes on to say that “when we fall that first time, we’re not really in love with the girl. We’ve in love with being in love. We’ve got no idea what she’s really about—or what she’s capable of. We’re in love with our idea of her and of who we become around her.” Cassel thinks about Lila, and decides that “when she came back, I had to see her the way she was—complicated, angry, and a lot more like me than I’d ever guessed. I might not know what Lila is capable of, but I know her.” His conclusion is that “love changes us, but we change how we love too.” This is the good part of any Holly Black novel, that even when her characters are running around saving the world and themselves from outlandish monsters, they derive their strength from getting to know themselves and their friends better, forming them into a group of allies they can trust at their back.

I love the way that, occasionally, what Cassel does at school echoes how he is feeling, like the day he says “I make it through my afternoon classes and try not to think about the morning ones I missed. About how close I am to getting chucked out of Wallingford. About how little I care. I try not to think about Lila.
At track practice I run in circles.”

With two crime families and one FBI unit all trying to attract his services and possibly trap him into various kinds of untenable situations, Cassel triumphs by using his powers in a way no one expects. With one clever plan he solves the problems, stays independent, and retains a good chance of getting the girl.

It’s a clever ending, for a very clever series of tales.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2015 1:05 pm

    Oh, l am a complete sucker for “sting” novels, and l just loved these. There were a few ploT holes, but as you point out, Holly Black’s skillful handling of her characters and their personal growth is good enough to make me happily turn a blind eye to a little tear in the plot fabric. When you meet her, would you mind throwing yourself at her feet and babbling about how much l love her books? It would mean so much to me.

    • December 21, 2015 2:25 pm

      I would not mind at all. It will not surprise you to hear that I’m actually quite good at babbling when I meet a famous author.
      Last year I told the story of what I babbled to Daryl Gregory, about getting out of the pool. I don’t know if I told the story of what I babbled to Kij Johnson when she came in and prepared to sit down beside me for the panel on satire in SF. She was carrying a drink and said something about being afraid she was going to spill it on me, causing me, looking up, to assert that it would be an honor to be spilled on by her.

  2. December 21, 2015 5:05 pm

    Nice. I see l am leaving my fangirling in good hands.

  3. December 21, 2015 9:51 pm

    I bet these WOULD be good airplane books. How cool to meet Holly Black! But rather you than me. Even if you do babble, I expect you’ll babble much more sensibly than I ever would.

    • December 22, 2015 8:38 am

      I think it’s an oxymoron to “babble sensibly.” But yes, ICFA is the greatest conference for meeting people who can reduce a reader to a moronic state.

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