Book Reviews

Re-Review: “White Cat,” Holly Black

July 6, 2016
Re-Review: “White Cat,” Holly BlackWhite Catby Holly Black
Series: Curse Workers #1
Published by Margaret K. McElderry on May, 2010
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 310
Book Depository | Bookworld | Booktopia

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.

This is my second time reading and reviewing White Cat and I’m so glad that it retained the magic I remember so fondly. Holly Black has crafted a truly unique urban fantasy. Deceit and mystery make White Cat a standout, as does the spectacularly honest leading character of Cassel Sharpe.

 “You’re a little devil, Cassel Sharpe.”

Now, I say that Cassel is an ‘honest’ character. Let me clarify that by saying he is honest only to the reader. Cassel, brought up as the only ‘non-worker’ in a family of workers has inevitably inherited some of his families more nefarious traits, a skill for deception being one of them. Despite all this, Cassel is a character that aims to make the best out of what he’s got. Plagued by the guilt of killing his childhood love in an event he can’t remember, and always kept in the dark by his worker family, Cassel is a classic black sheep. Still, void of any skills in the magic department, Cassel manages to keep up with the best of them.

Cassel is probably my favourite part of this series. It’s not often that I really end up liking male narrators in YA, so the fact that he’s the standout gem of White Cat goes above and beyond what I had expected before reading this back in February, 2011.

“It’s like I’m watching us all in a fun house glass, a parody of a family gathering. Look at us celebrating our criminal enterprises. Look at us laugh. Look at us lie.”
– Cassel

Another highlight of this book (and series) is the intricacy of the world that Holly Black has created. As an urban fantasy, it’s shockingly similar to our world, but there are minor (or major?) differences. For one, ‘curse working’ is abundant, therefore everyone – worker or not – wears gloves to prevent hand-to-hand touching. There’s a part where Cassel unearths some racy photographs of women without gloves and he’s kind of taken aback. It was these little details that made the world of White Cat so rich and unique. People also wear charms to block someone working them – a different type for every type of work; luck, death, transformation, emotion, memory and physical. There’s also some political stuff going on in the background – like workers being registered, support groups for workers, etc. It’s fantastic.

In White Cat, there are also some pretty interesting relationships – familial and romantic. Cassel and his death-worker grandfather share a great bond, however strained. Cassel’s mother is also incredibly meddlesome, even though she’s locked up in prison for emotionally working her second (or third?) husband out of his money. The main relationships, however, seem to be the ones Cassel has with his brothers, Philip and Barron, as well as the one that he romantically shares with his presumed-dead childhood love, Lila Zacharov.

Holly Black has done a spectacular job of making Cassel question the bond he shares with those of his blood. Philip and Barron, once their plans for Cassel are exposed, become incredibly heartless characters that you can’t help but hate. Still, Cassel being the shockingly good guy he is, can’t bring himself to want them dead. As for Lila, his feelings for her are more than complicated. After all – he thought she was dead on his account. With the way White Cat ended, there’s certainly more spanners about to be thrown into the works where Lila and Cassel are concerned. Even though I’ve read Red Glove, I can’t really recall what happened there, so I’m more than keen to keep reading and see how it all plays out.

“Once someone’s hurt you, it’s harder to relax around them, harder to think of them as safe to love. But it doesn’t stop you from wanting them. Sometimes I actually think it makes the wanting worse.”
– Cassel

Unlike my first time reading this, I was able to read the short story at the end of my new edition called Lila Zacharov in 13 Pieces. It gave me a new insight to Lila that I didn’t have before; including some of her childhood and relationships with the Sharpe family growing up. I was able to get a better handle on the respect she had for her father, as well as why she wanted to eventually take over the family crime business. I really recommend it as a short read if you’re delving into this series again, or for the first time.

I’ve read a few Holly Black novels now, but White Cat and the Curse Workers series in general remains to be my favourite. Although it feels incredibly contained at times (there’s not much of a scope other than what’s going on in Cassel’s immediate surroundings) and I find myself questioning some of the plot developments (like why Cassel couldn’t just transform something into a gun once he was beyond the metal detectors at the end?) it’s just so brilliantly written and feels so genuine from Cassel’s POV that I never seem to mind much.

I can’t wait to get into my re-read of Red Glove and then finally finish the series when I read Black Heart for the first time!

About Holly Black

Holly Black spent her early years in a decaying Victorian mansion where her mother fed her a steady diet of ghost stories and faerie tales. An avid collector of rare folklore volumes, spooky dolls, and crazy hats, she lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.

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