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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: White Cat

Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Page Count: 310 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Genre: urban fantasy, young adult
Copy provided by Around the World Tours in anticipation of an honest review

50 words or less: What if magic were purely biological, and curses could be transferred just by touching someone? Cassel's entire family knows all about that, except him- all he wants is to be left alone. Turns out that's way too much to ask.

White Cat is one of those books that, upon completion, I immediately started planning which of my friends would receive it as a gift. It's a smart, sassy book that creates a unique world, a veritable motley crew of characters, and leaves the door wide open for a series that promises to be just as engaging as this, the introductory volume.

Cassel just can't catch a break. His entire family, from his grandpa to his parents to his brothers, are all curse workers; they can make stuff happen to people just by touching them. Cassel doesn't have this ability, which makes him kind of an outcast amongst his con artist family. They love him, sure, but at the end of the day he's an outsider. As a result, he has to find more orthodox ways to get his fix of criminal activity.

Cassel is pulled in all different directions throughout the book- between guilt and absolution (killing your first love does a number on your sense of self worth, apparently,) between legitimacy and the con, between truth and lies, between family and his sense of self. Cassel hasn't had the greatest role models in terms of how to interact with other people, either; he thinks that relationships are all defined in terms of power and that manipulating people is the only way to shore up his position. It doesn't ever occur to him that that's not how things have to be.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, good world building will suck me into a novel every time. The author creates a really believable set of rules for the curse workers and how their power works; I especially liked the inclusion of the element of blow back and how it was infused throughout the plot. Essentially, blowback is a portion of a curse that flows back to the curse worker. If they kill someone, a part of them dies too (Cassel's grandpa's hands are a hot mess because Grandpa is a death worker, his mom is an emotion worker who's an emotional basket case most of the time, and so on and so forth.)

Manipulation is definitely the name of the game in White Cat. Cassel manipulates people and also gets the hell manipulated out of him by his family. He finds out a lot of things that he was never supposed to know and is torn between feeling hurt and just letting things slide; as the story goes on and he realizes just how deep the still waters in his family really run, I think he's definitely veering to the hurt side. Cassel's family loves him, sure, but they have a funny way of showing it, and by trying to protect him, they ultimately denied him the information that would have kept him safe and allowed him to do things willingly instead of being coerced. The trouble with trying to play everyone is that you don't notice when you yourself are being played, and if I had to pick the theme that resonated most with me, that would be it.

Some people are going to get their skirts blown up by the cavalier attitude a lot of the characters have towards crime, towards death, towards drinking and/or drug use, but I think these elements were woven into the story with aplomb and made the entire setting seem legitimate. I don't think a mobster would think too much about whether or not he was being a good or moral person by doing the things he or she does; this story works its way through some pretty seedy situations and doesn't apologize for that.

There are more twists and turns in the story than I could count, and right up until the last page I was guessing at what would happen next. I'm hoping there won't be a long wait for the next installment in this story.

Overall Grade: A

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Savannah said...

I loved this book! Iwant to be a curse worker now. Forget vampires! lol

celi.a said...

Great review. I know what you mean about plotting to get this into a friend's hands ASAP. I told my brother to read it immediately, and I just lent my copy to a friend who was looking for a beach read. Really good stuff...and a pinch of that 'whatever-it-is' that makes you really fall in love with a character. It was just so...FUN. Like a favorite con movie.

misha1989 said...

It seems everyone has read this book except me! I think I need to read this now.
new blogger

Caitlin said...

Fantastic review, I'm really excited to read this one!

Emily said...

@Savannah- I totally got excited about the gloves that were included in the White Cat prize packs that were floating around awhile back.

@celi.a- There was definitely a certain something about this book that made all the elements come together so well. I have a couple other Holly Black books floating around and want to move them waaaay up on my TBR pile now.

@Misha- Welcome to the book blogger world! I can definitely recommend checking this book out ASAP.

@Caitlin- Thanks for the comment and I hope you enjoy the book! :D

Larissa {Larissa's Bookish Life} said...

Great review! =) I have that one waiting to be read here =)

Simcha said...

I recently read this book and enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected to since I'm not much of a YA reader. Though I got irritated with all of the manipulation that was going on. I also didn't particularly care for any of the characters, which was a bit of a problem for me. But on the whole I really enjoyed it.

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