White Cat by Holly Black is the only book I’ve read by the author. It was published in 2010 and is a young adult urban fantasy. I picked up a hardback copy from a bargain table for $3. I read this in one day. I do not usually read young adult (or, really, urban fantasy for that matter), but it was an okay read for an afternoon wherein I just did not want to tackle anything but relaxing and lounging.
It’s actually the first novel in a (I think) trilogy. I believe the second book is published, but I have not actually seen it – but I cannot say I have really looked for it, either. I picked it up for the price and because the premise seemed vaguely interesting. From the website:
“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……”
Ultimately, it was not entirely as expected – which is both good and bad. I was interested in the concept of curse workers because it seems a bit more unique than the standard “I have magic powers” that permeates much of urban fantasy. Also, the main character who is written in first-person is male and the author is female – so I was interested to see if the author could pull off a convincing voice. Further, the title has cat in it – and I do love cats. Sucker, I know….
Cassel is the main character – he’s one of three brothers in a family that is well-versed in utilizing their “curse worker” skills to con, assault, and thug their way through things. Cassel, unfortunately, does not have the “worker” power. Naturally, he’s marginalized in his family because of this. Cassel, though, strives very hard to be normal. In fact, that’s the subplot of the entire novel – Cassel’s effort to live a normal life among normal people; distancing himself from the antics of his family. Unfortunately, one of the main things that holds Cassel back from normalcy are the skills he picked up from his mother, who is in jail. His mother is the consummate con artist. Also, Cassel struggles to deal with the memory of having killed his best friend, Lila, several years back.
Characters wear gloves to prevent purposeful/accidental touches by “workers.” Some of this made sense, but some of this seemed forced. I am not sure it works entirely with the concept of curse workers (i.e. I am sure there are loopholes/problems that astute critical readers might discover), but I just accepted the element and read onward.
Honestly, Cassel is a fairly likeable character. The author does pull off a decent male voice. One of the fun nuances that enlivens [sic] Cassel is his love for coffee. It’s little tidbits like this that develop characters and make them seem 3D. So, kudos to the author for that. However, the girl who Cassel supposedly killed – she’s awful. Most of the time, reading this book, I disliked her and I truly do not understand why a decent chap like Cassel would even be slightly in love with Lila. She’s hideous. She’s also the daughter of the big crime Czar of the Zucharov family. Yes, they’re Russian. This is something that the author does not pull off convincingly – a Russian crime family. It’s a little hokey and none of the Russians have that “Russian-ness” that one would expect. The problem with this is that it makes it seem like the author just made the family Russian because she could and it might make the novel seem a bit “exotic.”
Overall, three stars. I am really not great at rating young adult novels. This one was something different than I expected, but it was not wretched and I was fairly entertained throughout. Definitely for youth 15+.