Cassel comes from a family of curse workers — people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail — he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.
Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. Could she still be alive? To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
I love the premise of this book. What happens if magic users are more well known for their bad deeds than their good? Black builds around that a world where magic use is restricted and most magic practitioners hide that fact for fear of persecution and possible arrest. Since magic "curses" can only be conducted by touch, everyone wears gloves and is extremely cautious of any contact outside their family. It is in this world that Cassel is born, the youngest son in a family of magic workers and the only one who can't do magic. Rather rebellious, Cassel is in a private disciplinary school, but he gets kicked out when he is found on the roof after having a dream about a white cat. Cassel has to figure out what the dream means while trying to get back in school, and, in the process, manages to get himself into a lot more trouble. The characterization of everyone in the book is spot-on, and yet somehow Black manages to make all the selfish, criminalistic boys in the book relatable, which is something that is very hard to do. The plot is also great, surprising without being too out-in-left-field. The real spark, though, is the worldbuilding. Black has the gift of being able to make an entirely new magical world for us to enjoy with a minimum of exposition and no long teachy paragraphs on how things are and how they got that way. It makes me very glad that there's another book, Red Glove, due out in a few months!