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White Cat (The Curse Workers) Paperback – February 8, 2011
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Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
* "Fans of the author will revel in the sophisticated and slightly-more-realistic-than-usual approach, . . . fascinating and carefully developed characters, and lush setting descriptions." - BCCB, starred review
"A noir thriller." - New York Times Book Review
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
WHITE CAT is gritty novel that weaves between crime, mystery, magic, murder, and mayhem.Read more