White Cat by Holly Black

Holly Black's dark and character-driven novels are not for everyone. Although popular, I never did find myself falling in love with her modern faerie tale novels Tithe and Valiant. So I was a bit hesitant to pick up her latest book, White Cat, knowing it again featured a dark, convoluted storyline starring a family of brothers with magical abilities, known as 'curse workers,' working in a mafia-esque empire of danger and revenge.

Wait a minute.

That sounds like something I'd be all over.

Bring it on Ms. Black.

In Cassel Sharpe's alternate reality, Curse Workers have the power to alter emotions, grant you luck, break your leg, or even kill you with a single touch of their bare skin. Although 'working' was outlawed in the early 1920s, curse workers have continued to thrive outside of the law under the direction of mafia-like families of magical users. Cassel hails from a long and impressive line of curse workers and con artists. And while he's not a worker like his brothers Phillip and Barron, he can definitely claim the con artist status. But Cassel is going straight. While his mom serves time in jail, Cassel is attending an exclusive private school and trying to act normal - even if he does run a small-time betting ring to cover his daily expenses. Yet the perfect image he has so painstakingly constructed begins to crumble when Cassel begins dreaming about a white cat asking for his help and sleepwalking at school. Confused with the jumbled snatches of memory from his past and the various versions of truth his brothers offer in explanation for their increasingly odd behavior, Cassel finds himself deep in the tangled web of a mysterious conspiracy spanning years and involving every person he has ever loved.

In White Cat, nothing is as it seems: from the 'public' image Cassel creates of himself, his relationship with his brothers and mom, or to his own perception of himself and his abilities. Compelling and gritty, Cassel finds truth spilling forward at the most unexpected moments from the unlikeliest of sources. I am utterly intrigued to discover where Holly Black will take the Sharpe brothers next. All three have this unique love/hate relationship with each other, tied up in knots alongside their conflicting loyalties and hopes for the future. Not to mention their own skewed perceptions of family and loyalty. It's some truly heady stuff. Then there's Cassel's grandpa who is decidedly old school but who everyone just sees as old. But wowza, the man is a killer. Literally. Although I do wish he wouldn't spend so much time being cryptic with Cassel - his insights could have saved him buckets of time.

Although it did take me a few chapters to really warm up to Cassel, sections like this one quickly helped me to see just what a unique and intelligent guy he really is.
Mom says that because she can make people feel what she wants them to, she knows how they think. She says that if I was like her, I'd have the instinct too. Maybe being a worker tempts you to be all mystical, but I think mom knows about people because she watches faces very closely. There're these looks people get that last less than a second -- micro-expressions, they call them, fleeting clues that reveal a lot more than we wish. I think my mother sees those without even noticing. I see them too.

Like, walking back toward the coffee shop with the cat in my arms, I can tell that Sam is freaked out by the con, by his part in it, by my planning it. I can tell. No matter how much he smiles.

I'm not my mother, though. I'm no emotion worker. Knowing that he's freaked out doesn't help me. I can't make him feel any different.
How could I not fall instantly in love with Cassel's profusion of con-man lingo and his obvious removal from anything remotely resembling a 'normal' relationship. Familial or friendly. In Cassel's world, a mother wouldn't hesitate to use her ability to manipulate her children's emotions or reward her kids for successfully pulling off a con. Heart-breaking but so incredibly engrossing. In this exceptionally character-driven novel, Holly Black has crafted a world so unlike any other YA book I've come across. White Cat is dark. Gritty. Intense. Just my kind of story.

series reading order:
~ White Cat
~ Red Glove (?May 2011?)

Because Everyone Likes a Second Opinion:
All Things Urban Fantasy review
Alpha Reader review
The Book Smugglers review 
The Compulsive Reader review
Dear Author review
Pure Imagination review

book source: my local library


Karin Perry said...

Thanks for sharing.

Mrs. DeRaps said...

Yay! I'm glad that you enjoyed this book so well. I've wanted to read it (mostly because of the cover) for some time! And, I love a dark, gritty read. Thanks.

Michelle said...

Karin - happy to do so!

Mrs. DeRaps - It IS a great cover. And if you like something a little darker, a little edgier, then this book is for you!