Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: White Cat- Holly Black

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 façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade 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.

Yet another fantastic read from Holly Black! Although I really enjoyed the Modern Faerie Tale series (Tithe, Valiant, etc) I’m really happy that she’s taken a completely different approach in this new series, because it works well!

We all know that I’m a sucker for world building, and Ms. Black did a great job with the world of White Cat. It’s almost identical to ours, except that there are certain people who possess the magical ability to do curse work.  Curse working was banned during the prohibition, but plenty still goes on under the radar, most notably in order to further the schemes of magic-possessing mafia families. People are so terrified of being ‘worked’ that they wear gloves to prevent themselves by being touched by workers.

Cassel is the only person in his family who doesn’t have any magical ability, and although he’s painted as the ‘good boy’ of the family, he’s still a pretty good conman! One thing I liked about White Cat was that the turns of events were genuinely a surprise, and we as readers weren’t at all prescient- we figured everything out as slowly as Cassel did. I loved Cassel as a protagonist—he was smart and he really grew over the course of the novel from being a complete doormat to standing up for himself.

What I most look forward to about anything I read by Holly Black is the way she delves into the dark side of human nature. This was certainly true of White Cat—people are murdered and manipulated, even by their own family members. There are also frequent hair-raising moments; I for one was thoroughly creeped out whenever the cat actually appeared!

One thing that annoyed me throughout the course of the book was that Lila truly treated Cassel like dirt for what seemed like no reason. However, I must say that I think it takes strong character building to invoke a visceral reaction against a character, whether that’s positive or negative—so bravo to Ms. Black!

I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel, Red Glove, out in 2011.  Keep your eyes peeled!


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  1. I love Holly Black and I definitely want to read this one.

  2. Hey, great review! I must confess I've had this book sitting on my shelf for months, apprehensive to read it because I didn't really care for TITHE. But I'm so glad to hear you enjoyed it! I'll have to pull it off the shelf :D

  3. I liked that the book starts with action and humor right away, with Cassel waking up on the roof in his underwear while the rest of the students at his boarding school are watching from the courtyard, egging him on to jump. Immediately, the reader gets this bond with Cassel: he may be conning the rest of the world, but he lets the reader know how and why he's doing it. For me, character likability is a major factor in how I form an opinion about a book. As those who read my review of Megan Whalen Turner's Thief will know, I ended up having really mixed feelings about that book, primarily because I felt that Gen, the narrator, had tricked me. Cassel I trust... well, at least to the extent that he trusts himself.


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