Magic and the Mob: White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat by Holly BlackWhite Cat (Curse Workers, #1)

PublishedMay 4th 2010 by Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster

Source: local library

SynopsisCassel 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 criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, 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.

Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself 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. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

My thoughts: This was our February selection for teen book club. It was the first book we read as a group that no one had previously read, and it came highly recommended by the youth services manager. The majority of our book club enjoyed it. We still had a fun meeting (the best are when we get into heated debates…). I think cupcakes always help.

CHARACTERS

I liked this book a lot more than I anticipated. What really surprised me was how authentic the male narrator felt. I mean, we don’t often get guy main characters in paranormal fiction. One of the teens in book club, who admittedly isn’t a fan of male narrators, thought Cassel’s characterization was deep and believable. She had absolutely hated Ethan in Beautiful Creatures, so was skeptical at first, but came to like him. In my opinion, Cassel was a compelling character with a complicated family life and an interesting worldview.

The supporting characters were well-developed, too. Even though the relationship between Cassel and his brothers ended up being pretty twisted, I liked that we got to see a multi-sibling family, which is also rare in YA fiction. Lila was an interesting character and we had fun chatting about her. Some book club members thought she was kind of weird, others liked her. I thought her response to Cassel pointing out that she was kind of a bully and her response of “but you like it” was very telling of their relationship. The tension between the two was palpable.

Cassel’s mother was definitely not likable, but for how little page time she was actually given, very well-developed. It was easy to see how she justified her actions and her personality was developed by her actions rather than just description.

I wished that we would have seen more interaction with Cassell’s school friends—they felt the most underdeveloped of all the characters in the book.

PLOT & WORLD-BUILDING

In book club one of the most interesting parts of our discussion revolved around the setting and world of The Curseworker series. We all agreed that it was set in modern, contemporary times only in this world, Curse Workers and the type of magic they do was known and accepted. We talked about how different the story would have been if Curse Workers were not out in the open, kinda like wizards in the Muggle world of Harry Potter, or if it had been set in a different time period. I personally loved the modern noir feel of the book. The magic and mob aspects worked together to create a new spin on urban fantasy. The world-building felt organic and we learned bits along the way without being told everything up front.

The mob and magic were great complements to each other, and the novel and a noir-esque atmosphere it despite feeling very modern. The concept felt fresh and edgy. I very much enjoyed the structure of the story and while I wasn’t surprised by many of the twists, enjoyed them. The ending was beautiful and perfectly ironic, which is what made this book above average for me. I liked the ending so much, I’m actually less frantic to read the sequel because I loved the note on which White Cat ended. This might say more about me than the book, and I definitely will eventually check out the rest of the series, as well as more of Holly Black’s work.

Second opinions:

The Saavy Reader: “The story has a lot of twists and turns, but it is an engaging urban fantasy mystery. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes an edgier read with a supernatural twist!”

The Frenetic Reader: “Despite its flat characters, White Cat possesses enough mystery and a great enough premise that I was always compelled to keep reading.”

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8 thoughts on “Magic and the Mob: White Cat by Holly Black

  1. I hope you DO check out the rest of the series, because every book is (surprislingly) just as good as the first! I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this one either, and so was too taken by how much I enjoyed it. Particularly as a book with a male narrator. I rarely enjoy males narrating written by females, but Holly Black is one of those authors that can completely cross that line realistically (Maggie Stiefvater being another that comes to mind).

    1. Oh, I’m definitely going to finish the series, but between Infinite Jest and The Hub Challenge and this stack of ARCs, I think it won’t happen until this summer! Plus, all the book club members are off reading them, so it’ll be a while before I can check it out.

  2. The cover didn’t sell me and the synopsis sounded like a lot of paranormal fiction out there. If not for your good review, I probably would have never thought twice about it. I really like finding male MC’s.

    1. Thanks! I’ll keep that in mind. I started out just writing reviews in essay format and have tried to start experimenting with formatting. In some books, I find it hard to separate the characters from the world-building or the plot from the writing style, etc, but it’s good to know that attempting to organize it with headings is helpful.

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