Book reviews, musings and waffle from a British lit addict

Review: ‘White Cat’ by Holly Black

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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.

Review

I loved White Cat.  But then, Hanna bought it for me as part of a super generous Christmas present so I shouldn’t ever have been expecting anything less.

There are a lot of fantasy series out there vying for your attention.  I know how it is.  You only have so much money to spend on books and there will always be too many series that you want to read.  The Curse Workers series, though, really is worth your money and your time.  It has brilliant world-building (complete with a plausible history and political opinions/nuances), clever characterisation and is exciting to boot. What more could you want?

First up, the narrator is male.  That shouldn’t be noteworthy but somehow I feel that it is.  Either way, Cassel is likeable enough but he wasn’t my favourite character by any means.  I can’t even begin to imagine how much thought has gone into this series.  All of the characters and their stories are exceptionally well thought out and have appropriate back stories.  So much so that when there’s a twist in the plot and you’re thrown off track, you realise that actually there have been clues there all along and that you would have seen everything if only you’d been paying attention.  It isn’t that the plot is desperately unique as such, more that it’s just been intricately crafted and is utterly seamless.

My favourite idea is that magic has a cost to the Worker.  Want to change someone’s memories?  Feel free, as long as you’re prepared to spend the next couple of weeks being a little forgetful.  Decided that you want to kill someone?  Go right ahead! Just be prepared to pay the price.  I’m really looking forward to seeing how that system develops – it adds a level of thoughtfulness to everything that you don’t normally get with urban fantasy and I love it.

As a first instalment, White Cat does brilliantly and strikes the perfect balance.  Enough to get you completely sucked in but not enough that your appetite for the characters and story is sated.  I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I’m a huge fan of the starts to series.  There are lots of occasions on which I’ll love the first in a series, recommend it to anyone I come across and then proceed to forget about the series the next time I go anywhere where I might expand it (as per Bitten of the Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong).  There are also plenty of times where I read the first in a series and get annoyed and ignore it forever (a la Fallen, part of the Fallen series by Lauren Kate).  The Curse Workers series is the perfect start – one I loved and keep recommending and that I actually remember when I walk into a bookshop.  One of the more creative series aimed at the older end of the YA spectrum of the moment and a book I highly recommend.

Overall:  After finishing White Cat, I hauled myself to Waterstones to lunch to get hold of Red Gloves…only to be thwarted by them having stocked the new (and uglier) versions of the series.  I was gutted that I couldn’t run straight on to the next one, which is as good an indication of how much I loved White Cat as any!  Go out, buy it and thank Hanna later šŸ˜‰

Date finished:  08 February 2013
Format:  Paperback
Source:  A present from Hanna, because she is just that wonderful
Genre:  Fantasy fiction; Urban fantasy
Pictured Edition Published: by Gollancz in June 2010

Still need convincing?  Check out Hanna’s review here!