White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat
Holly Black

I’ve been meaning to get to this series. Ever since Tithe, I’ve been a fan of Holly Black, plus this was supposed to be a YA with supernatural elements and a con artist protagonist. What’s not to like, right?

A big thank you to fellow book blogger, Laura of A Jane of All Reads for my copy!

The Premise: (taken from the blurb) “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 criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, 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.

Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself 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. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.”

Read an excerpt of White Cat here

My Thoughts: In Cassel Sharpe’s family, everyone is a curse worker except for him. With one touch they can bestow a “curse”. His mother can manipulate people’s emotions, his grandfather can kill, his oldest brother, Philip, can break bones, and Barron, the middle brother, works luck. Although curse workers are rare and blowback exacts a cost for each working, curse workers are the reason why everyone in the U.S. wears gloves and keeps their skin covered.  Being the only normal in a family of workers is hard for Cassel, but thankfully, he has his family’s other talent to fall back on: swindling people. While his brothers rely on their curse worker skills, Cassel grew up fine tuning his ability to manipulate others by conventional means.

Now Cassel is enrolled in a private boarding school, but when he wakes up on the roof of his dormitory without any idea how he got up there except a dream of a white cat, his stay at Wallingford is put on hold. This is purportedly for the insurance liability, but Cassel suspects it’s because people think he might be curse-worked. Cassel has been careful at the academy so that people would forget his past– that he comes from a family of crooks and conmen, but this one incident reminds everyone. Despite this, when Cassel goes back to his parents’ house all he wants to do is hustle his way back into the school. In between the house cleaning his grandfather has him do, Cassel is on damage control and smoothing his way back in. But while he is figuring that out he notices some telling behavior from his family — especially from his brothers. They’re keeping secrets from him, and Cassel suspects these secrets are more than just hiding things from the non-worker. He suspects they have to do with the night he killed his best friend Lila.

One of the stronger aspects of White Cat was its world building. The idea of workers, a very small percentage of the population with genetically passed abilities, fits seamlessly into the story. Cassel lives in a world where their existence is a given, and he offhandedly mentions what most people in his world already seem to know: that workers exist in the criminal fringes of society, a fragment of a percent of the population, but everyone wears gloves because of them. Gloves have become so de rigueur that Cassel feels uncomfortable if he sees bare hands. A fear of workers is part of day-to-day life: people wear charms to protect themselves from being worked, and there is also an ongoing controversy about legislation requiring everyone be tested for worker ability. What isn’t as well known is how the abilities work, and here Cassel knows more than the average person because of his family.

What was less strong was the character development, unless we’re talking about Cassel. Since White Cat is told from Cassel’s point of view, he is the most well developed character. The sense of isolation — both from his family for being a non-worker and for Lila’s death, and from the other students at his school, is in his every action. He doesn’t seem close to anyone, and only relies on others when he’s forced to (it goes against what he was taught). He’s a great broody teen guy character and I really enjoyed getting in his head and seeing how his upbringing has messed with him. Unfortunately, that isolation made the supporting characters difficult to know: they got little page space compared to Cassel, and what there was was filtered through Cassel’s walls. Cassel is least familiar with his classmates but they are probably the most likable characters. His brothers are distant and untrustworthy, his sister-in-law disconnected, and his mother a manipulative nightmare. His grandfather seems to be the only one in the family with a proper concern for Cassel, but he’s left out of the loop. Even Cassel’s romantic relationships are dysfunctional ones and it’s not clear if Cassel understands either girl he thinks he loves.

As for the plot – I liked the mystery aspect to this story. There’s a sense of urgency to figuring out what’s going on — that until he does, the cards are stacked in everyone else’s favor. I really loved the concept of what was going on when all was revealed, but I figured things out a lot quicker than Cassel does, and I wasn’t as wowed by the twists as a result. It was nicely done, but there were so many clues that I ended up questioning Cassel for not being quicker on the uptake. Also, because so much is made of Cassel being a normal in a family of workers and having to hone his skills as a confidence artist, I had a certain expectation of Cassel as a manipulator. I think I was expecting Cassel’s tricks to be more.. tricky, than they were. Instead they felt really obvious. I don’t know what this says about me, but I seem to be in a decided minority in feeling this way.

Overall: I loved loved loved the concept, world building, and voice. But. Other than Cassel, a lot of the side characters weren’t fleshed out and I wasn’t as surprised by the story as I wanted to be. I liked this one, and feel like it has that Holly Black writing that sucks me in, I just wasn’t in awe (and I really wanted to be). That said, I think a lot of people liked this one more than I did, and I liked it enough and am curious enough to continue this series with the next book, Red Glove.

Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Bunbury in the Stacks – “Cassel is one of those bad boys that you just can’t help but have a thing for…because he’s also kind of a good guy. ”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “While I didn’t find White Cat amazing, I still recommend it to fans of urban fantasy.”
Stella Matutina – “I was somewhat less interested in the plot than in the overall setup.”
Steph Su Reads – “Don’t miss it!”
Jawas Read, Too!“White Cat is an impressive and entertaining read.” (8 out of 10)
Read. Breathe. Relax – “White Cat is a must-read.”
See Michelle Read – “In this exceptionally character-driven novel, Holly Black has crafted a world so unlike any other YA book I’ve come across. White Cat is dark. Gritty. Intense. Just my kind of story.”

Other:
The Curse Workers website

P.S. I was tickled by the image of a mystery girl on the spine of the hardcover. Easily looked over, it’s a hidden detail.

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6 thoughts on “White Cat by Holly Black

  1. Yay! I’m glad you finally read this one, even if you didn’t end up liking it as much as you were hoping to. I think that part of the reason I liked this one so much was because I listened to it and the audio was phenomenal. I can definitely see what you mean about the character development besides Cassel being weak, but I loved the world building, and loved that I never saw where these books were going. The second and third are just as good in my opinion! I’m glad you’re interested enough to keep reading.

    I really need to read Tithe. 🙂

    • I am curious about the audio after reading your review of it — it sounds like it must be excellent! Maybe something about visual over audio had something to do with my guessing what was going to happen, but that’s ok, I am still interested enough in this world and the premise to keep going.

      I really loved TITHE, but it was one of my first YA & faeries stories, so not sure how it will hold up.. still holds a fond place in my heart though. Along with VALIANT which is my favorite of the three. IRONSIDE was a little weaker for me because it was wrapping up instead of being more standalone with the romance like the other two were, but it is worth reading if you end up being a fan of the first two.

      • Yeah, I always think back to books I read early on in my YA reading and realize how many I wouldn’t even get through today. I do want to try Black’s fairy series though since I enjoyed Curse Workers so much!

  2. Pingback: White Cat | One More Page

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