Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review: White Cat

Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Published: May, 2010
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
I love discovering an amazing series after all its books have been published.  It invariably results in satisfying reading binges that discard the priorities of your real life.  I first came across Holly Black's Curse Workers series in college, and I'm pretty sure my grades suffered for it. It was worth it!

White Cat opens with Cassel Sharpe waking up on the roof of his dorm at his boarding school with no memory of how he got there, save a dream in which a white cat stole his tongue and he followed her to get it back. The school administration freaks out over this apparent suicide attempt, but Cassel insists he must have sleepwalked.  He was a sleepwalker as a kid after all.  Until the matter is sorted out, Cassel is sent home.

There is a more insidious possibility to explain Cassel's unconscious foray to the roof.  He may have been under the influence of a dream worker — a magic user who influences dreams and can control a victim while they sleep.

See, in the world of White Cat, world history has progressed as we know it, save for the presence of curse workers — a small portion of the population who are able to use magic.  The magic is very limited.  Each curse worker develops an singular ability — they don't get to choose.  There are seven specialties — luck, emotion, physical, memory, dream, death, and transformation.  The ability to work curses runs in families, and Cassel just so happens to part of a family of curse workers.  However, Cassel is the equivalent of a squib — he never manifested any magical ability. 

It's a complicated system, and I haven't even touched yet on how curse working is illegal, how there are mafia families of curse workers, how Cassel compensates for his lack of magical skill by being a con artist...  The thing is, Holly Black relays all of this information so skillfully, that the reader is never overwhelmed or confused.  

This is my favorite type of book — one where the plot is tight and fast and the characters are vivid and compelling.  Cassel Sharpe is one of my favorite book characters of all time.  He comes from a family with extraordinary talents, but must deal with being ordinary and un-gifted.  As a result, Cassel is made up of a winning combination of humility and resilience.  He's learned how to get by with mastering confidence games, which he learned from his criminal parents.  He's a serial paperback reader, a film noir lover, and hangs Magritte posters on his walls.  Oh, did I mention that he murdered his best friend, Lila Zacharov, when he was fourteen?

The plot is fantastic.  It's complicated, but stream-lined.  It's fast-paced, but still leaves room for detail and character development.  There are some twists and turns that the reader won't see coming and will thrill and delight.

There's so much more I could write about White Cat, but I have to stop somewhere.  It's the first book in a trilogy, and I plan on reviewing the other two books, Red Glove and Black Heart. So, I'll stop here, and merely urge you one last time — read White Cat and love it!

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