17-year-old Cassel Sharpe lives in a society made up of those who are curse-workers and those who are not. Curse-working involves changing a person’s emotions, luck or memories by touching their skin and has been made illegal in Cassel’s community. Although Cassel comes from a family of curse-workers, he has been brought up to believe that he is without the gift himself. However, during the course of this story, Cassel makes momentous discoveries about himself and his past, not only that he is in fact one of the most powerful of curse-workers but also that the girl he thought he’d killed years before is still alive in the form of a white cat and that he is the only one who can save her.
This thrilling fantasy is a gripping and intriguing read. The use of the present tense for the opening sequence and the inclusion of passages addressed directly to the reader are effective in drawing the reader in to this mysterious world from the outset. Yet this book is more than a compelling read. It expertly explores Cassel’s confusion over his identity and his place in the world, a theme which will undoubtedly resonate with many readers. Cassel has always felt like an outsider, both amongst his worker family and his friends at his privileged boarding school. Yet as he experiences shocking changes to his life he finds it increasingly difficult to hide his true colours in a bid to fit in. He is eventually forced to reveal his true self, a painful yet cathartic process which he describes as ‘like peeling off my own skin to expose everything underneath’.
Fantasy and realism are well-balanced – the imaginative world of curse-working is grounded in the history of prohibition and the Great Depression, making the story credible as well as intriguing. The book is described as being for grown-ups and many younger readers may find the plot excessively multi-faceted and some of the detail disturbingly gory. Yet the mixture of intrigue, romance and thought-provoking themes may well make this book a rewarding read for older, ‘grown-up’ teens.