Tuesday, July 27, 2010

White Cat by Holly Black - Book Review #58

Tuesday, July 27, 2010
White Cat
by Holly Black

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.

White Cat was my first experience with Holly Black’s books and I have to say it didn't leave me disappointed. I picked up this book because of multiple reasons. First of all, it is about con artists. One of my favorites is stories about big fraudulent schemes. Second, these con artists are involved in magic, they are curse workers. Third, from the synopsis it seems like Cassel is not an angel, but rather a dark figure in the story and he is a main character. It is quite unusual to find main characters in YA novels that are not good to the bone. Mostly all of them are and they only think that they are monsters or villains. Per synopsis Cassel actually killed his best friend, so he is a truly bad guy.

White Cat turned out to be a very fast read. It took me hours to finish this book. I guess the main reason for this – I didn’t want to put it down.

I’m not sure if Holly Black planned this book as a mystery, because if she did – she failed– I guessed the whole story quite early in the book. However, I really doubt that Black could have failed so completely, considering how celebrated author she is. I think Black wanted the reader to be aware of the story much more than Cassel himself, so the reader could follow Cassel’s reactions to the unfolding mystery, rather to mystery itself.

The most enjoyable part for me was the world Holly Black created. It seems quite an original idea, at least for me. White Cat’s world is almost like a real world with one tiny detail - there are curse workers in this world that can change your whole life by a touch of a hand and only gloves and amulets can protect you. That tiny detail changes everything, creating sort of parallel universe to the one that we know. I liked Holly Black showing how history as we know it changes by the influence of curse workers’ existence and changes even more because curse working is illegal.

There are not too many YA book from male point of view, which by itself is already making White Cat an original book. But of top of this, Cassel voice sounds closer to a teenage guy then in most of the books, where male protagonists sound like thirty years old woman, as far as I can judge.

I also appreciated Holly Black’s research in Russian folklore – mentioning of Kashey The Undead, Russian contemporary culture – mentioning of bratki – Russian gangsters and, of course, I loved the last name she picked up for one of the curse workers family – Russian family – Zacharov – which can be translated as to bewitch. I hate when authors writing about something they have no clue about - using wrong names, claiming that some nationality have this and that cultural traditions when in fact that nationality never heard about anything like that, using incorrectly foreign language without at least tiniest understanding what this or that word means. So I was glad to find out that Holly Black is not one of those authors and she does her homework.

I would recommend this book to pretty much any teenager or adult who likes con artists mixed with paranormal. I will be definitely reading the next book in this series - Red Glove that will be released on April 5th 2011.


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