by Holly Black
January 1, 2010
Borrowed from Library
Synopsis (from publisher): 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.
Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love — or death — and your dreams might be more real than your memories.
Review: I know, I know, I’m late to the party for this book. I don't have any good excuse - I read Tithe years ago and enjoyed Black's work on The Spiderwick Chronicles, but for some reason I never picked up White Cat. Beyond my lateness, I don’t usually review books right after reading them, but last night, I stayed up way, way too late to finish White Cat because I couldn’t put it down.
White Cat hit so many of my story kinks: complicated sibling relationships, boarding schools, an alternate reality with a well-thought out magic system and interesting political atmosphere, and a boy-girl relationship that went beyond love at first sight (I know, it’s sad that becomes something to look for).
I really enjoyed Cassel as the narrator, and I say that as someone who generally does prefer female narrators in my reading. He was an interesting and well-fleshed out character who grew dramatically during the course of the book. The reader gets to watch as Cassel struggles with conflating the mantra that family is everything which had been literally cursed into him with the possibility that his brothers had treated him as just another mark. There are times when it feels like Cassel descends into too much self-pity, but as both a teenager and someone dealing with the betrayal of everything he thought true, it also feels excusable.
The politics of Black’s world are a lot of fun to read about (if probably not so much fun to live). While the debate about registration and testing of the ‘curse workers’ feels a little X-Men, the history revealed in the rise of the magic using crime families and the constitutional amendment against magic gave the paranormal aspect a thorough grounding in society. I especially liked the societal mandate to always wear gloves - and the fact that Black takes that to its obvious conclusion with the touch of bare flesh on skin becoming both slightly titillating and scary.
Finally, Lila struck me as a fantastic character. The daughter of a crime lord, she was both a lot more violent and less caring than most female YA characters - as the daughter of a crime lord should be. I’m not one for wanting to read versions of a book with another viewpoint character, but I think that a Lila-POV story would be a lot of fun to see.
I’m reading Red Glove now, and I’m pretty sure that the wait until April for the trilogy’s conclusion is going to be agonizing.