Review: White Cat by Holly Black

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Genre: supernatural, young-adult
Series: The Curse Workers #1
Pages: 310 (Nook edition)
Published: May 2010
Source: purchased
Rating: 5/5

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.

I LOVE THIS BOOK! I normally try to refrain from all-caps declarations of love (exception: Christian Bale), but it is unavoidable and White Cate is worthy of them. This was a quick read but I had so much fun with Cassel that I immediately bought book two, Red Glove, literally right after I finished the final page of this. It's addictive - an all-male POV ya novel that's entirely credible and authentic in its voice, set amid a unique and compelling plotline within a magically-infused world. Fast-moving and nearly unputdownable, this is the book newcomers should try for this author. After starting and DNFing the first Spiderwick novel early last year, I was nowhere close to expecting the level of reaction that White Cat caused within me - this is one that has rocketed up to be among my favorite YA novels of recent years. 

Cassel was a strong, unique, male voice with a genuinely compelling and individual tale. This was just... so fun to read; an effortless reading experience as well- the pages flip by without even noticing. I loved the slow reveal of both the history of the 'dab hands' as well as Cassel's own personal evolutionary arc.This isn't a character or a world that you want to leave - both characters and world make an impression and it is a very favorable one. This is a lol-worthy novel, largely due to Cassel himself. He exhibits the trademark teenage self-deprecation and hatred, but unlike most teens, Cassel has the unhappy history to back up his darker emotions. He's quick, and smart but humanly and believably flawed, lonely kid. He uses a complex system of bets on other people's daily lives to feel as if he has some measure of control, as well as to feel like he has a life of his own. Cassel is easily the highpoint of the entire novel, through all his ups, downs, and quotable moments. (“She says that what you did was a cry for help." "It was," I say. "That's why I was yelling 'Heeeelp!' I don't really go in for subtlety.”) If he is occasionally a bit too. . . naiive. . at the expense of pacing and plotting, I'll take that bargain. He's a very relatable and often introspective character for a male teen (“We are, largely, who we remember ourselves to be. That's why habits are so hard to break. If we know ourselves to be liars, we expect not to tell the truth. If we think of ourselves as honest, we try harder.” and “The easiest lies to tell are the ones you want to be true.”) but it works, it genuinely does.

Everything is not perfect here, despite my overwhelming love for the first in the inventive and fun Curse Worker's series  - Holly Black is a talented and humorous storyteller, but her expertise doesn't encompass all there is to White Cat. For a novel about con men and deception, several of the twists and turns taken throughout are thoroughly predictable and/or transparent.  Not all reveals and outcomes are predicted but some are rather obvious from the get-go. Black takes care to show and not tell with her prose, but her foreshadowing could use some work. This is a novel that isn't full of surprises but one that leads you to a conclusion and then turns that predicted conclusion on its head. It's rather nicely done and impressive on the author's part. I wish that the Mafia families here had more bite and shows of power - I never quite bought the danger of the threat of the Zacharov family, for example. A larger focus on those in charge of the criminal curseworkers would be appreciated.

I was never bored while reading White Cat. On the contrary, I was constantly entertained by this fucked up family dynamic, the first I've seen to really match The Chronicles of Amber in the level of lies, manipulation, outright betrayal and felonies attempted. This is a series made of the winning mix of mafia and magic - intriguing in its conception and execution, filled with complex characters and just plain fun. I read this in early March and I think it will remain one of my favorite novels for the entire year.


  1. I love the cover! I have heard nothing but love for this book (and series, if I recall correctly) so I clearly need to hop on the wagon!

    1. It really is pretty good. Magic mafia families + a unique plot really make this one fun. The second isn't quite as perfect but holds up rather well. :)

  2. I've been hearing about this book for quite some time now but your review really made me decide to finally get it.

    1. As far as I am concerned, this is one of those books that actually deserves the hype! I hope you like it :)


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