“White Cat” by Holly Black

Title:  White Cat
Series:  The Curse Workers, #1
Author:  Holly Black
Read Date:  7 February 2011
Goodreads Status Updates:  Click here.
Review in a nutshell:  “Clever as the devil and twice as pretty,” but not Sharpe enough.

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.

It took a long while for me–longer compared to other books–to get invested in White Cat despite totally loving the premise of the book. It’s not so much the protagonist, Cassel Sharpe, or what happens to him, but more of how things were presented.  The story opens with him almost dying because he sleepwalked and ended up on the roof; that should get anyone’s attention!

Unfortunately, the book lost its grip on my attention a few chapters after that.  It took about half the book to really get a picture of what the Curse Workers are, what they do, what their place is in society, and how the Mafia-like families controlling the Workers work (Haha, accidental pun! Let’s pretend it was intended.) But by the time the book ended, I don’t believe I’ve really fully grasped the details of the world and the intricacies of Cassel’s character.

Cassel’s POV is part of the problem here, I think. Don’t get me wrong, it’s refreshing to read a YA book from a male POV. He starts out not knowing about his power–he’s a self-proclaimed outsider in the Worker world–though he knows enough to describe the politics and how the Magic works. In theory, his angst about not having a power and his account of the weird things that are suddenly happening to him should have been as much of a draw as his account of what he can do with his power had he known he had it. But all I got in the first few chapters was an account of his suspension from school, the betting pool he runs under the school admin’s radar, his unease about staying with his brother Philip, his plans for getting unsuspended, and pages about him cleaning his parents’ home in the company of his rather grumpy grandfather. Granted, that was a lot of story right there, but these did not really do much to drive the plot forward.  (White Cat is the first book in the The Curse Workers series, so… okay, maybe I’ll ease up about that part a little.  Just a little.)

The basic plot was actually very interesting and it was definitely original.  Again, in theory, this should have made for an action-packed insert-favorite-magic-based-story-here meets The Godfather thriller, but White Cat doesn’t quite soar to those heights. The action truly picks up only in the last half of the book, and even then, the climactic set piece of a con became a jumbled box of tricks; it was as if the characters were in a contest for who can pull off the most amazing con. (I predicted most of the outcome several pages back, too.)

I hope that Red Glove will be better in terms of Cassel’s characterization and how Holly Black writes the action. Now that Cassel is aware of his powers, there should be more room to expand on the World and his character.

P.S.  I gave this a second chance by listening to the audio book. It was made better and more entertaining by Jesse Eisenberg’s reading, but I stick by my original opinion. 🙂

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