Thursday, July 29, 2010

The White Cat by Holly Black

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.

I’ve really enjoyed Holly Black’s other books, The Spiderwick Chronicles and her Tithe trilogy. And the premise of this book sounded incredibly interesting. I love intricate plots where you have to figure out who’s conning who and what the fallout will be as a result. So I was really looking forward to this book.

I enjoyed it, pretty much. It was difficult to get into at first because the pacing was very slow, and the writing wasn’t up to the standard of Holly’s previous books. After the first third, though, both of these aspects improved drastically.

I loved the whole idea of ‘curse working,’ and how everyone has to wear gloves. Removing one’s gloves is considered a shockingly intimate gesture (as depicted in the playboy-type pictures Cassel briefly encounters). The emphasis put on the gloves was an excellent reminder of how different Cassel’s world is from ours. I would have liked to see more of those differences, though. I also would have liked to know more of how the mafia works. Is it like prohibition, or something else?

The discrimination aspect to the story wasn’t as original as I’d hoped. The whole concept of curse workers registering themselves was explored in X-Men, so I was hoping for a different twist on this. Perhaps there will be more on this in future books.

The best part of this story is the last third, when Cassel finally realizes what’s really going on and who the real enemy is. He deals with it in a very clever way, which I’m guessing will come back to bite him later. This part is what has intrigued me enough to want to read more.

Overall, this is not Holly’s best work, but the concept has kind of hooked me. I’ll have to read further in the series before I’ll feel comfortable recommending it, though.


Sherrie Petersen said...

I was disappointed with this book, too. I had much higher expectations for Holly Black because I've loved some of her other stuff. I did like Cassel's character, but like you, I didn't think the story got going until the last third.

Tabitha said...

Yeah, my expectations were set much higher, too. If I had never read anything by Black before, I would have had a very hard time getting through the beginning. But I kept reading because I know she's capable of so much more, and I was hoping that would come through later in the book. Fortunately, it did. :)

I'll definitely read the next book, but I hope it doesn't have that rushed-out-the-door feel to it the way this one did...

Natalie Aguirre said...

I just got the book from the library. I wonder what I'll think.

Tabitha said...

I hope you'll share your thoughts!