Mandy and Kylie Review: Holly Black's - "White Cat"

Mandy: Cassel Sharpe’s family are curse workers, and he’s the only non-magical member. Which is a bonus for him, since magic (aka talent) is outlawed in the world Holly Black has created for her latest series.

Cassel’s mother is and Emotion worker, and currently spending time in jail for her confidence tricks. His grandfather is a Death worker, able to kill people with a single touch and his older brothers have special skills of their own. In this alternate world, everyone is forced to wear gloves and anyone is a potential criminal. The Mafia prizes workers, and folks like Cassel’s grandfather are highly sought. But the biggest problem for workers isn’t always the legal issues – it’s the physical blowback they get from using their talent. Cassel makes up for his lack of magic by becoming an excellent con artist and thief, skills which are admired in his family of shady crims. Cassel’s life would be easier if he shared the family gift, and he runs a full range of emotions between embarrassment of his heritage, to wanting a ‘normal’ life, to wishing he was a worker himself. Things would certainly be easier if he was – or would they?

With his home-life less than stellar, Cassel gladly attends an exclusive boarding school, Wallingford, where he acts as the school bookie, taking bets on everything from who will be cast as the lead in the school play to how many times brownies will be served that week in the cafeteria. His life is pretty good – and profitable – until the night he wakes up on the school roof after dreaming of a familiar white cat… and the girl he killed three years ago.

White Cat confused me in the beginning, and it took a while to get my bearings. The back cover blurb and cover art didn’t do a lot to give away what type of story it was, and I was expecting a high fantasy, when really, it’s anything but. White Cat is dark and gritty and once you get the hang of the world being the same as ours, but a step or three to the left of reality, it’s easier to sink into. Black’s clever meshing of the criminal world with the magical is unlike anything else out there, and having a male protagonist was a welcome, refreshing change. I loved the explanation of ‘the con’, the steps a criminal takes to convince their victim they’re the good guy, the mind games Cassel and his family plays. Cassel himself took a bit of getting used to as well, but his lack of angsty whining combined with intelligent internal dialogue kept me on my toes and looking forward to book two – Red Glove.

Kylie: I agree that White Cat was engaging enough for me to continue reading and look forward to the second instalment.

Like Mandy, I was confused at first. What is presented is a very real world view, so the “rules” of the magical world created within it were quite unclear and took me by surprise at the beginning of the book. Once my confusion had abated though, it was easy to accept this other reality.

I found that I didn’t really engage with any of the characters as much as I would have liked to. I didn’t like any of them enough to barrack for them and, equally, I didn’t dislike any enough to wish for their demise. I remained detached throughout the book which was a great disappointment.

My other major criticism of the book was that the timing seemed to be off in parts. Some of the big reveals were anything but a revelation – and I doubt that was due to any shrewd reading between the lines of the plot. Much was not only predictable but actually spelled out for the reader so that instead of a revelation, the climatic scenes were an anticlimax.

Other scenes were so unpredictable that they left me cold. There hadn’t seemed to be any warning signs or clues to lead to the author’s conclusions.

Despite my misgivings, I did actually enjoy the ride, particularly, like Mandy pointed out, the descriptions of the cons and the profiling of their con victims.

White Cat by Holly Black

Orion Publishing Group (imprint of Gollancz)

Paperback, 310 pages.

ISBN – 978 0 575 09671 4

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