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White Cat (The Curse Workers) Paperback – February 8, 2011
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"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—Cassel, 17, is an anomaly as the only untalented one in a family of curse workers. While his mother, grandfather, and brothers make their living by illegally performing death curses, manipulating memories, and casting emotion charms, Cassel relies on his quick wit and con-artist skills to convince his private-school classmates that he's normal, despite bouts of sleepwalking and patchy memories of standing over a murdered friend named Lila. Nightmares about a white cat that resembles Lila, his family's ties to organized crime, and evidence of a mysterious plot against him threaten to pull Cassel into the world he's fought hard to resist. Black has written a dark coming-of-age tale with a likable hero. Teens will empathize with Cassel's desire to fit in and his occasional clashes with his family while rooting for him to unravel the conspiracy. Though readers will enjoy the fast-paced plot, there are points, particularly in the last few chapters, where the action is confusing and clarity appears sacrificed for expediency. Some secondary characters, such as Cassel's grandfather and friend Sam, are three-dimensional, while others, including his brothers and Lila, are less well realized. Despite these minor flaws, White Cat will appeal to readers who grew up on Holly Black's "Spiderwick Chronicles" (S & S) and are ready for something edgier.—Leah J. Sparks, formerly at Bowie Public Library, MD
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.
"Dangerously, darkly gorgeous fantasy." - Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series
* "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
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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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
This book wastes no time, thrusting us head first into the plot where Cassel Sharpe (I listened to the whole audiobook thinking it was Castle. Oops.Read more