I read these two in such quick succession (pausing only to devour The Demon's Lexicon) that it only makes sense to look at them together. I got them at the Diversity in YA event, but both had been on my to-read list for ages. The noir aspect of them intrigued me, but I found myself even more swept away by the world Holly Black creates. One that is SO close to ours. The magic ties into our history, our slang is appopriated to fit that world and everything seems so believable that even I, with my usual difficulty with fantasy, had no problem with it.
I think what I appreciated most in addition to the protagonist, Cassel's, very distinctive voice was the development of his goals. He starts off determined to get back into school after an incident involving a seeming-suicide attempt gets him suspended. You really see how his boarding school is the only place he's felt "normal" where no one knows about his past--a past that's about to come back to him in a very real way. I loved how even as the revelations in the book developed, Cassel never lost sight of this desire.
I also loved his frankness and the way this helped the pacing, the way certain revelations are given so straight-forwardly that you don't mind the times when things are hidden from you to make a sweeter reveal. Sometimes this bothered me--when we see Cassel doing something and only find out later what it really was for instance--because in a first-person narrative I feel cheated by these omissions. However, Cassel's a conman, used to telling half truths and hiding things so it fits his character well.
Minor flaws: wouldn't have minded seeing the secondary characters a little more developed, but Cassel's feelings towards them are so real that you love them because he does, and you love him too, for so badly wanting to do right by the people he loves, even if they've betrayed him.
Also, I love that not all adults in the book are crazies. Some are, but Cassel's grandfather who is the least likely to be sympathetic--he's a deathworker, the magic he wields can only kill--is the one adult truly in Cassel's corner. As such, I expected him to die in book one. I'm so glad he didn't, though it could have led to an even darker book two....