365 Days of Women Writers

Women writers only – no boys allowed

Day 29: White Cat by Holly Black

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I don’t think the title or the cover does the book much justice. The title is bland and the American cover looks like it wants to tie into the Twilight/wicked lovely/ every other OTP teen supernatural romance trend. (What are we up to again, angels? Dunno what comes after.) The UK cover (on the right) is a bit better but gives almost a quirky/cozy feel when this book is no such thing.

White Cat is a mob story. Think Godfather for the teen set. (Only much better than the Puzo book, think more the movies.) It’s also an alternate history. The mob bosses in New York City didn’t only gain power because of prohibition and bootlegging, but also because the curseworkers (whose works became illegal at the same time.)

Curseworkers can bring you luck or make you fall in love, forget your past or kill you dead. Curseworkers are rare and Cassel is the only nonworker in a family of them. His grandfather used to work killing curses for the Zacharov family and now his brother Philip breaks legs. And then there is Barron, the Fredo of this story. Cassel thinks Barron’s a luck worker, but really he’s a memory worker. His mom is an old fashioned grifter (And reminds me more than a little of Anjelica Huston in The Grifters) and works emotions.

Cassel’s the guy who doesn’t quite fit in at the boarding school he attends. Not only because his family is full of workers, but he’s not rich and he is the local bookie. And as the book opens, he wakes up on the roof in just his boxer shorts. Oh, and maybe he killed his 14-year-old best friend Lila a few years back. (Now I feel like we’ve strayed into Veronica Mars.) At least, that’s what he remembers, standing in a room covered in blood, but he has no idea why or how it happened.

Cassel gets temporarily thrown out of his school and his past starts to unravel. Cassel finds out his brother Philip has been having his wife’s memories altered and in quick succession learns that his own memories aren’t to be trusted either. His brothers have been using him and wiping his memory (because you know he is secretly a powerful worker) and now are planning to assassinate the head of the Zacharov family.

One of the things I really liked about the book was how Black integrates the worker culture into America – everyone wears gloves and to have bare hands is very intimate.

Maura folds her arms across her chest. It’s so strange to see her bare hands that I’m embarrassed. Mon hated gloves at home; she said that families were supposed to trust one another. I guess Philip believes that too. Or something.

Its’ different when the hands belong to someone I’m not related to, even if she is my sister-in-law. I try and force my gaze to her collarbone.

Cassel is a bit slow on the uptake – the reader figures out way before he does that he’s actually a transformation worker and that he didn’t kill Lila (Zacharov’s daughter), he turned her into a cat. I wish that part of the story had played out a bit quicker.

There’s a temptation to write complicated cons just because they’re fun. Black doesn’t quite escape this-there’s a con with Lila the cat that was amusing, but completely unnecessary.

And while I didn’t think the climax was completely there – I wanted just a little bit more – the ending was heartbreaking.

So when does book 2 come out?

Written by Chance

October 16, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Posted in holly black, novel

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