Monday, March 14, 2011

11 PM Book Review: White Cat

White Cat, by Holly Black, opens with a Cassel Sharpe sleep walking onto the roof of his dorm. You find out fairly quickly that he murdered his girlfriend three years ago, which doesn't make him a very sympathetic character. But he doesn't seem like the murdering type.

The setting for White Cat is an alternate world in which "curse workers," people who do magic, are an acknowledged minority in the world. Because curse work is legal in the US, several large crime families regulate the black market. If you are a curse worker, you are almost by definition a criminal. Cassel's whole family are curse workers. His Mom is in Jail for manipulating the emotions of rich men. His Grandfather is missing the fingers of his left hand, the hand that he kills people with. One older brother breaks bones with a touch. The other is a lawyer. As far as he knows, he's the only member of his family who isn't a worker of some kind.

From early in White Cat, you get the feeling that something weird is going on, and as Holly Black lays out the parameters of curse work, you begin to realize that there's lots of reasons why. Workers can control your luck, your emotions, your dreams, your memory, and even, in very rare cases, your shape. When Casse is kicked out of school for being a liability risk (almost walking off roofs will do that), he goes home to his family. Their weird indifference to his plight means he must ferret out what is going on by himself. And those dreams about a white cat.

Cassel isn't an unreliable narrator in that he can't be trusted... it's just that with so many stone cold manipulators around him, he can't trust himself. White Cat builds up into a great plot, smart but no so convoluted you lose track of it. A huge part of the tension comes from the fact that Cassel can't trust anyone, and a large part of the satisfaction is watching him have to take the risk of trusting.

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