Growing up in a family of curse workers, individuals who are feared and loathed and yet considered a necessity, Cassel finds it nearly impossible to imagine life without emotional, physical, and supernatural manipulation. He believes he has no gift himself, but he has learned how to use his “normal” abilities to read people, chameleon himself to be whatever folks want, and keep himself out of the spotlight that surrounds his family. Haunted by the assumption that he killed his best friend a few years ago, he finds that the discovery of what truly happened to her does little to alleviate his guilt—the truth about Lila’s fate and what it represents about Cassel’s nightmare family (each driven by complex, if mostly horrific motivations) will nearly kill him. The blithe nature with which most folks in the book use everyone around them (whether through actual curse work or regular manipulation) may be uncomfortably familiar to readers, even while the physical blowbacks (death curse workers lose a body part with every application, and all workers suffer to some degree) and slightly otherworldly descriptions provide a bit of distance. It is in fact this teasingly recognizable setting, the nearly current cultural elements, and Cassel’s concerted efforts at normalcy that Black elegantly contrasts with the magical details to make them even more unsettling. Fans of the author will revel in the sophisticated and slightly-more-realistic-than-usual approach, even while they recognize Black’s familiar clipped pace, fascinating and carefully developed characters, and lush setting descriptions.