18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black's Art of 'White Cat'
I thoroughly enjoyed Holly Black's first installment of The Curse Workers series: White Cat. In it, we're introduced to Cassel Sharpe and the world in which he lives--one much like our own save for the fact that "workers" exist who can work magic by touch alone. Cassel is the misfit in a family full of workers and con artists: since he wasn't born a worker, he has made...
Published on March 27, 2010 by The Gerondakises
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Everyone Has A Tell (Even Authors, Apparently)
Cassel has problems. His mom's in jail for the fallout of an unsuccessful con (she made a millionaire fall in love with her, but then he got over it). He's a loner at school, where being from a family of workers (who can influence, or "curse," your luck, or dreams, or memory with the touch of skin on skin) is not the ticket to teenage popularity one would hope. Worse,...
Published on April 2, 2011 by Snark Shark
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Black's Art of 'White Cat',
I thoroughly enjoyed Holly Black's first installment of The Curse Workers series: White Cat. In it, we're introduced to Cassel Sharpe and the world in which he lives--one much like our own save for the fact that "workers" exist who can work magic by touch alone. Cassel is the misfit in a family full of workers and con artists: since he wasn't born a worker, he has made up for his lack of gifts by perfecting the art of the con. With Cassel's mother in jail for working a man as a part of a con, and his boarding school kicking him out over an episode of sleepwalking, Cassel is left to the unstable care of his two brothers Phillip and Barron, and their grandfather. Haunted by his past, he works on conning his way back into school, uncovering some evidence that he himself is being worked--but by who? And can he save his family in the process of saving himself?
This was one of the best YA fantasy reads I've read in a while. I love the world that Black has created in this first installment of the series. Cassel is a great character whom the reader is going to love. Plus, his conniving family has enough interpersonal problems to keep things interesting as he tries to get to the bottom of the appearance of a mysterious white cat. The ending was a nice twist that left the reader pleasantly hanging for the second installment--while most of the questions have been answered, we know there's still more to the story! I'm looking forward to Book 2, and I hope we get to read more about Cassel and his family in the next one.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cassel Can't Seem To Stop Working the Angles,
The bad first, to get it out of the way: this book isn't always the most subtle thing going. I was about an eighth of the way into the story when one of the big plot twists telegraphed itself so clearly I couldn't miss it. Another significant, connected twist became obvious once I'd spotted the first. I've been reading fantasy for a long time, but I'm not exactly the Sherlock Holmes of the genre, so other readers will figure this stuff out too. That was a bit of a bummer.
Now the good, and there's more of that! There were a lot of twists and turns in the story I didn't see coming, some intricate and some delightful and some a measure of both. I got fond of Cassel Sharpe over the course of his story, because sure, he's a con man and if we met in real life he'd see me as some kind of mark, but he has a soul to go with his brain. Morality's a complicated issue in the Sharpe family--it makes all kinds of things rather interesting, from simple doctor's appointments to crimes in progress, death, and love.
In Cassel's version of Earth a few members of humanity have always been able to work magic on others, changing their luck, or their dreams, or their memories. It's been illegal for years, but why would that stop the magical Mafia? Everyone wears gloves to protect themselves from 'the touch.' One bare hand touching another is shocking, taboo. When you try and eat Tater Tots, the grease gets all over the leather. Small things like this made the setting more complex than just 'our world, except there's magic, but everything else is the same!' Cassel's reality is a lot like ours, but the devil is in the details....
I want the next book to be out *now* so I can find out what happens next, and that's maybe the best recommendation a series book can have. It's been awhile since I've jonesed so for a sequel, so I'll round four-and-a-half stars up to five and hope Holly Black's a fast writer.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not perfect, but it was perfect for me,
Holly Black is a writer that I keep on my TO READ list because while I may not always love a book of hers, I usually like parts of it enough to want to read the next thing that she does on the strength of her no-nonsense,s sparse style of writing. In my (admittedly flawed) opinion, I've found that women writers have a general tendency to overwrite but Black's prose style remains straightforward while her plots and characters follow the dark path into the dark in a logical way.
I like that.
So when the first book of her new series ( White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1) ) became available to read, I jumped on it.
White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1) is the story of Cassel Sharpe, a 17-year-old from a family of curse workers (people who have a special gift to 'curse' people). Curse workers are treated with suspicion and in Cassel's world, they make up crime families. They might be con artists or thugs. It depends upon the particular talent of the worker.
Cassel doesn't seem to have the touch so he isn't a "worker" which makes him unique in his family. He is, however, being haunted by dreams of a white cat. When he is found on the ledge one evening at his private school, he is thought to have been attempting suicide whereas he says he was just sleepwalking. He is put on suspension and in the effort to get back into school, he develops a con job that seems to set in motion an event that will finally open up what happened three years when Cassel appeared to have killed his best friend.
As a character, Cassel is closer to Charlie Huston's man-in-the-wrong-place Hank Thompson than the usual teen hero of YA paranormal novels a la Shiver. He's a guy who is pays his dues by being a con artist of playing the odds to his benefit. He's a liar and a thief (sometimes).
And he may be a killer. But he doesn't want to be.
The plot points are simple: What is the white cat? Why is it haunting Cassel? What is going on with his brothers? And what really happened to Lila Zacharov all those years ago?
Black writes the story simple and to the point and I love when an author does that. No extra modifiers. No extra descriptions when not needed. No extraneous characters for fluff but in the end don't matter one whit.
No fluff period.
Just the story and the characters and things getting done.
If one is looking for a supernatural teen romance, White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1) is not the book for you.
If one is looking for a story in which the hero is a teen and he has to 'go there' even if it is dark and unpleasant, then this is book to take a chance on.
It isn't a perfect book. It may not be for everyone, but for me, it was perfect and well done.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Everyone Has A Tell (Even Authors, Apparently),
Cassel has problems. His mom's in jail for the fallout of an unsuccessful con (she made a millionaire fall in love with her, but then he got over it). He's a loner at school, where being from a family of workers (who can influence, or "curse," your luck, or dreams, or memory with the touch of skin on skin) is not the ticket to teenage popularity one would hope. Worse, he's not a worker himself, which means his brothers make his life hell and his grifter family has no idea what to do with him. But the cherry on this sundae of suckitude would be the memory of Lila, the person who came closest to being his best friend, and how Cassel can't figure out why he would kill her, three years ago.
But now a white cat is haunting his dreams and dodging his steps, and Cassel is waking up to the fact that someone in his life is working both con and curses on HIM...
"The White Cat" is -- in the loosest sense of the word -- inspired by the fairytale of Puss In Boots. That's one of my favorites, but I can't say the appeal crosses over. Black's effort is ultimately an entertaining ride. I have a demanding system for my rankings, so don't let the three stars fool you: this is a fun book. But it's not a particularly smart one.
The first few pages are pretty fabu. But then, as many reviews here have mentioned, the book hits a slog. This is understandable -- an entirely new magic system and history of the world takes time to explain.
The slog lasts one hundred pages. I don't mean nothing in there has any bearing on the rest of the book, but it honestly takes another hundred pages (I marked the passage) before we get an idea of where the plot is headed, that frisson of "ooo, something is happening!" This is not understandable, especially with an author with this kind of experience. This begins a disturbing trend of, well, rookie mistakes throughout this book.
Let's look at characterization: Cassel is pretty much a mope. He pities himself excessively, which of course may leave readers reluctant to follow suit. I wouldn't say his frequent mulling over his horrifying-yet-mysterious killer nature, his attraction to cons, his emotionally barren home life crosses the line from "informative" to "annoying"... but it certainly treads it. And Cassel never has any FUN. When he's got the upper hand he's lamenting the deviousness of his own nature, but when he's bullied or pushed around he thinks on what a failure he is as a bad guy. I repeat: a mope. The other characters usually fall into one of two groups: manipulators without conscience or do-gooders without guile. This sounds more polarizing than it is -- characters one might be tempted to call "good" are, often, the liars and cheats, while the simple folk can be hurtfully clueless -- but it's still a bit barren of psychological depth. While antiheroes are awesome, I'd like to know WHY otherwise likable characters often choose to act so inhuman.
The world building is an interesting conceit, but rather limply executed. The real joy of "integrated" urban fantasy (where the general population is aware of the supernatural) is how everything we take for granted is turned topsy-turvy, and there's a reason certain works rise to the forefront in a (let's admit it) saturated genre: authors with the imaginative capability can take one change ("vampire exist!" being the popular choice) and use to to re-shape the entire world. Black's alternative history is genuinely interesting and more ambitious than the old vampire standard, but she doesn't pursue the possibilities to the hilt. Everyone ends up wearing gloves, which doesn't make a lot of sense if you think about it. (What happens to the blind? How do people deal with foods like tacos or pizza? Does no one read? Because it is HARD to turn pages with gloves. Beyond bare hands being risque (sometimes -- it's very inconsistent), there's no exploration of how this would affect manners, fashion, etc.) And "working" and "workers" are persecuted in the US, but not Australia? That's just bizarre. There's no real-life equivalent to help you understand that disconnect, and it doesn't explain why worker families don't emigrate en masse. I could go on -- basically the world building seems half-hearted, with some truly PAINFUL infodumps to catch the reader up to speed.
Onto the plot! And this is where I get my review title. Because Black TELEGRAPHS EVERYTHING. I have my head in my hands over this, because the plot is interesting! Suspenseful! And would work a heck of a lot better if it weren't so predictable, or Black didn't indicate big reveals a good thirty pages ahead of the event. It's just so clumsy: Cassel is the only non-worker in a family of workers? COULD HE SECRETLY BE A WORKER I WONDER. One worker talent in particular is noted as the most rare and special of them all? COULD THIS BE CASSEL'S TALENT I WONDER. Honestly, I'd warn for spoilers but these are only surprises if you've never read a fantasy book, ever. (I should note these tropes do not automatically cripple a book, but it can hugely frustrate the reader when you put them at the center of the conflict and then take hundreds of pages to address them when it's obvious what will result.) It goes on and ON like this -- even if it's not super-predictable genre quirks, the plot often makes it patently obvious to the reader what is happening, or what has to happen, long before Cassel susses it out. Or we get a weird monologue about something trivial and unimportant; it becomes immediately clear this element is going to BE important in an upcoming scene. Every! Time!
(Well, not every time. There is exactly one incident where this doesn't happen. But instead of giving Black credit I call foul: clever is something like Whalen's "The Thief," where the narrator is unreliable because they tell us the truth, but not the WHOLE truth, and you end up surprised if you don't pay attention. Clever is not Cassel's POV neglecting to tell the reader a major and time-consuming thing he did off screen which the plot then hinges on. That's a cheap stunt.)
There are also loose plot threads fraying everywhere. To mention them would be spoiler-y, so I'll just say they play a big part in creating conflict and then are apparently abandoned. Maybe later books will address them, but Cassel himself doesn't question the lack of answers even when he knows he's being lied to. It adds a passivity to his character that does the book no favors.
I often say the more potential a book has, the more disappointed I am when it fails to fulfill its promise. "White Cat" has so much going for it, and my hat is off to Black for some of the chances taken -- amoral characters, a murdering protagonist -- and the sheer ambition of its reach. But it ultimately falls short of its intentions because of sloppy, first-timer mistakes: lack of character complexity, confusing world building, and a plot that contains too many predictable elements or abandoned ideas. I'm not saying the book still isn't a lot of fun, and worth reading, but be sure to lower your expectations.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Magic, Organized Crime, & Con Artists,
Holly Black's WHITE CAT is a magical thriller, loaded with curses, organized crime families, and con artists with dangerous talents. LOVED this book, especially the ending. I'm excited to share it with my middle school kids once it's released. It's the first in a series called CURSE WORKERS, and it's one of those titles that both boys and girls are going to love. Highly recommended.
Reviewed from an ARC & due out from Margaret McElderry May 4, 2010.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars from Missprint DOT wordpress DOT com,
Hands can become dangerous weapons with the right training. But what if the lightest touch was enough? What if a finger placed on bare skin could change a person's luck? What if it could make a person fall in love? What if it could transform them? What if it could steal a memory? What if a single, slight touch was enough to kill?
In a world where curse magic is real a bare hand is more dangerous than any weapon.
Working is illegal, of course, but that doesn't make it go away. Instead, the curse workers are just driven underground, tied to crime families and working from the shadows to protect themselves--or maybe everyone else.
Cassel Sharpe comes from a long line of con men, gangsters and workers. Except for Cassel. He might know the art of the con better than most, but he isn't a worker. He is a killer. He killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago. He loved her, but he killed her anyway.
Cassel thought Wallingford Prep--a normal school away from his criminal family--would be a place where he could become the person he wanted to be, or at least convince everyone else he was the person he wanted to be. That is until the white cat shows up.
It might want to tell him something. Or kill him. Maybe both.*
As Cassel tries to unravel the white cat's intentions the facade of his normal life starts to crumble and nothing is what he expected. Cassel knows that being a con artist means thinking that you're smarter than everyone else and that you've thought of everything. But what happens when it starts to seem like you're the one being conned? That you can get away with anything. That you can con anyone. What do you do when it looks like you're the one getting conned?
Cassel's about to get even in White Cat (2010) by Holly Black.
White Cat is a total mind bender. Part mystery, part con game, part suspense, Holly Black has created a world like no other. The plot is filled with twists and unexpected turns but enough structure that readers will be able to keep ahead of (some) of the curves.
The story, much like its narrator Cassel, is simultaneously gritty and charming. Bare hands are simultaneously menacing and erotic. And lest being a worker seem too easy, every curse carries a blowback that turns on the worker itself, sometimes with devastating results. White Cat is a complex book that will likely leave readers with mixed feelings. Many of the characters, even the protagonists, are not nice people. Much of the ultimate resolution is messy. But life is not always nice nor neat, which is why White Cat is such a startlingly real fantasy that will leave readers wanting more.**
*I greatly appreciate this book supporting my personal opinion that cats are scary. I also madly love the cover. Edgy, sinister, and fabulous.
**Always a good thing for the first book in a trilogy. There is no official date for the second book yet, but I can confirm from Holly Black's livejournal and Sarah Rees Brennan's twitter that the second book will be called Red Glove. Watch for it.***
***Any Cassandra Clare fans should also watch for a quick reference to Jace in this book ;)
Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Money Wanders by Eric Dezenhall, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unique,
I really enjoyed Holly Black's take on the YA paranormal genre. Having it be narrated by a teenage boy, instead of the typical girl, gave the story a refreshing perspective that complemented the unique take of an alternate reality in which some people -- "curse workers" -- have the ability to change your luck, emotions, even kill you with the briefest skin-to-skin contact. Working someone, the term for using one's ability, is illegal, so most curse-workers are involved in organized crime and other forms of crime.
Cassel Sharpe, the youngest of three boys born to curse-worker parents, is the only one in his family who doesn't have the ability to curse. He does, however, know how to work a con, a skill taught to him by his currently-jailed mother and his older brothers -- pathological liar Barron, and Philip, an enforcer for the Zacharov crime family.
Happily ensconced in boarding school until the day he sleepwalks himself to the roof of his dorm, Cassel suddenly finds himself booted from school and spending more time than he would prefer with his family. And, to make matters worse, he's being plagued by nightmares starring a long-dead friend -- a dream-worker that Cassel, himself, murdered.
Or did he?
WHITE CAT is a fun story, with lots of twists and turns and an ending that leaves the story wide open for sequels. My only gripe was that some of the plot points became obvious long before they were revealed. But even so, the journey was as enjoyable as the destination.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars With family like this, who needs enemies?,
Holly Black's WHITE CAT should appeal to middle school students--boys and girls alike. The main character, Cassel, is teen who finds himself in lots of trouble. He has come to believe that he gruesomely killed his childhood best friend. He is from a curse worker family, but doesn't know what his magical ability is, or worse yet, if he even has one. He has memory problems, and while sleepwalking one night, he nearly takes a nose dive from the roof of his private school's dormitory. He then gets thrown out of school and into the hands of his none-to-friendly brothers, one of whom is a thug for a crime boss. The other is a huge liar. Both brothers guard a dark secret involving Cassel of which even Cassel is unaware.
Throw in a white cat that appears both in dreams and in reality and threateningly tries to communicate with Cassel. What is the white cat, and what does it want with Cassel? What is the deadly secret that Cassel's brothers are hiding?
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dreams of the white cat,
Curse workers -- they can change luck, emotions, dreams and even more just by touching your skin. And since curse work is illegal, they work as con artists or part of mob families.
Having sparked off the teen-girl-encounters-faerie-world craze, Holly Black easily slips into a very different kind of urban fantasy in "White Cat," the first book in the Curse Workers series. The idea is a pretty simple one, but Black twists and knots it into an elaborate, many-shaded fantasy story, with plenty of blood, mystery and magic.
Years ago, Cassel Sharpe killed his best friend Lila -- he doesn't know why or what happened, but he knows he did. And after Cassel sleepwalks onto a roof (and into Youtube fame), he ends up suspended from his school and back in the junk-filled family mansion. As he waits to get back in, he encounters a white stray cat hanging around the barn -- the same cat that has been in his dreams recently.
Other strange clues begin to crop up: a memory charm, strange behavior from his sister-in-law, and the gaps in his own memory. Little by little, Cassel begins to realize that the cat is Lila -- someone with the rarest kind of power has transformed her into a cat, and to change her back he'll have to find out who it is. But as he tries to figure out who transformed Lila and why, he discovers the secrets that have been painstakingly removed from his own head -- and the elaborate, deadly scheme that he's being forced into.
It's pretty obvious from the beginning of "White Cat" that there is more going on than meets the eye, and Holly Black spends most of the book delicately unwinding the various tangled schemes and secrets. The world she conjures up is pretty much like our own, except that there are some people who have magical powers -- it's gritty, prejudiced, and has some real dangers for Cass.
She also comes up with some pretty cool ideas, such as the curse work -- by touching your skin, the workers can instantly break your bones, manipulate your memories, enter your dreams and even transform your body. Fortunately, the "blowback" keeps the workers from seeming all-powerful.
And Black's prose slips onto the story like a worn leather jacket -- the story is gritty, grimy and jaded, and there's always shadows lurking around the corner. But there's a raw beauty to it, especially during scenes like Cass's "pebble" ritual. And she threads the story with the luminous, bright flashbacks of Cassel's time with Lila (think golden cat-globes, ear-piercing and vintage movies). The dialogue is snappy and darkly humorous, and Black knows how to add twists you'll never see coming.
Cassel is that rarest of characters -- a teenage anti-hero. He's a likable, pleasant kid who dislikes the amoral con jobs and brutal mob work that his family engages in, but he also has a weakness for a brilliant lie or a little clever gambling. He's perfectly matched with the luminously quirky Lila, who hangs over the book like DuMaurier's Rebecca (although not as evil or absent).
"White Cat" is a clever and unique urban fantasy, with some shocking twists and a grimy, dark atmosphere -- definitely Holly Black at her best. Can't wait to see what happens with the Curse Workers next.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An action-packed, magical, coming-of-age story,
Holly Black's WHITE CAT leaps instantly into action. The hero, seventeen-year-old Cassel Sharpe, wakes up barefoot and shirtless on an icy-cold night, about to step off a roof at his boarding school. Cassel assumes he was sleepwalking and hopes to be able to put the incident behind him. But after he's rescued by the fire department, the school authorities kick him out to avoid the legal liability resulting from his death if he were to accidentally kill himself while sleepwalking again. Cassel is devastated. He desperately wants to escape the deviant lifestyle of his family and be normal, and he sees boarding school as his one, big chance to accomplish that.
Cassel comes from a family of "curse workers" who can, with the touch of a finger, injure people with magic. Their various powers range from manipulating thoughts and emotions to physically harming others, up to and including his grandfather's ability to put a "death curse" on someone which will instantly kill him. Curse work is illegal, and his family lives on the edge of the law, many of them working for the local mobster. Even when they aren't working curses for hire, they make money as grifters. But though Cassel's amoral mother raised him and his two older brothers to see all of life as a gamble and a con, several crucial factors have kept him from falling completely into the cesspool of his family's unrepentant corruption:
Unlike the rest of his family, he isn't delusional about his own omnipotence when he runs a con. All of his cons are small potatoes stuff, like being a bookie at his boarding school for minor bets, which cause little or no harm to anyone. Cassel is capable of empathy, and he doesn't like to hurt other people, which can't be said for almost everyone in his sociopathic family. Most important of all, he apparently has no curse-working ability, which means he wasn't born with a power that society claims can only be used for evil. Unfortunately, there is one, huge thing that links him powerfully to his family's taint. They are covering up for him the fact that he apparently killed his girlfriend when they were both very young teens.
Cassel has mixed memories about this event. It feels like a dream that happened to someone else. He can clearly remember standing over his girlfriend's body with blood on him, but he has no recollection as to why on earth he would commit such an unforgivable crime against someone he loved--and still loves and misses years later.
In spite of the enormous psychological burdens Cassel carries, he makes choices that are anything but weak. He doesn't give in and become a criminal as his two brothers have. And he doesn't crawl off in a corner and whine about his terrible fate. Instead, he shows amazing initiative for someone his age by getting himself into a private school and away from his family, while hobbled with the reasonable doubt that he can never fully achieve his dream of normality. Since he isn't normal, he can only try to present an illusion of it to others, and doing that makes him feel guilty, because it seems too much like running the same old cons his family has engaged in for generations.
The concept of the con is at the center of this story, and the core of any con is the ability to tell lies convincingly and to keep secrets. That's a very creative twist on the two major sources of conflict in any fictional story, no matter what the genre, lies and secrets. In plot-driven, action/adventure, mystery, suspense and thriller stories, lies and secrets keep the hero in constant danger from the villain and often unable to know for sure who the villain is. In character-driven, relationship stories, lies and secrets stand in the way of trust, which is the foundation of emotional intimacy, commitment, and stability in romantic, familial and friendship connections. WHITE CAT is a story with both of these types of plots intertwined, a mystery/suspense plot and multiple, character-driven relationship subplots. And overarching and unifying all of that is the primary, "A Plot," Cassel's conflicted relationship with himself as he attempts to find out who he really is by breaking through a multitude of lies and secrets layered on top of him since birth by his family and society as a whole.
It is incredibly difficult to seamlessly intertwine, as Holly Black has done, action and relationship plots without emotion bogging down the action or action fizzling out the emotion. But she does a brilliant job of keeping action and emotion constantly in balance as she skillfully leads us through Cassel's discovery of who among the people in his life are his antagonists and who are his allies. The glue she uses to pull it all together is a theme throughout the book of determinism versus free will. That's a rather deep philosophical concept for a popular-fiction novel whose goal is to "merely" entertain, but it is this profound and universal human struggle which makes Cassel's journey one that all teenagers (and most of us adults) can relate to. The need to break free of limiting societal labels and expectations about who we are and who we can hope to be.
Cassel lives in a harsh world, so this book has a very somber tone. It is not as dark, perhaps, as many of the dystopian novels so popular right now, but it has a similar ultimate villain. The destructive, adult, power structure within a corrupt society which mandates that an entire group of people is inferior because they are tainted by innate qualities they never chose to have.
Because Cassel is fighting against institutionalized bigotry, the odds are completely against him in the greatest gamble of his life. I think it is for that reason that the end of this book, while it resolves the major questions posed by the story, does not resolve Cassel's core concern about constructing his own identity, rather than having a depraved one forced upon him by society. I look forward to seeing how Black will ultimately resolve Cassel's dream of escaping a life that is nothing but a series of empty, dehumanizing cons.
I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy, and most particularly to fans of Scott Westerfeld and Justine Larbalestier. I arrived at my scoring for this book in this manner:
Quality of writing: 5
Kudos, also, to the publishers for the gorgeous cover!
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White Cat (The Curse Workers) by Holly Black (Paperback - February 8, 2011)