365 Days of Women Writers

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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

Day 18: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

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I don’t like vampire stories. You should know that.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a vampire story.

I really like “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.”

Tidla is just awesome – she’s trying to save herself from becoming a vampire for a guy who doesn’t deserve it, but Julian’s still her touchstone. And then she gives up everything to go to Coldtown to save him and the girl he followed there, the girl he actually loves.

The story starts ugly, with an underage girl getting drunk with older guys who buy her the booze because they hope she’ll sleep with them:

Both of the guys laughed. She tried to laugh with them even though she knew she wasn’t included in the joke. She was the joke. The trashy little slut. The girl who can be bought for a big fat wine cooler and three cranberry-and-vodkas.

She wants the numbness from alcohol to kill her desire to drink blood, to stop her from going all the way over.

Coldtown is the ultimate rave, where the eternally young and pretty party all the time, and there a teens stupid enough to want to join them. Like Lydia, the girl Julian really loves. At the end of the story Matilda decides to deglamorize the idea of becoming a vampire by showing the world Lydia waiting out the 88 days for the infection to leave her bloodstream:

For eighty-eight days you are going to watch someone sweat out the infection. You are going to watch her beg and scream and cry. You’re going to watch her throw up food and piss her pants and pass out. You’re going to watch me feed her can after can of creamed corn. It’s not going to be pretty.

You’re going to watch me, too. I’m the kind of vampire that you’d be, one who’s new at this and basically out of control. I’ve already killed someone and I can’t guarantee I’m not going to do it again. I’m the one who infected this girl.

Written by Chance

October 5, 2010 at 3:51 pm