White Cat by Holly Black

Posted by Cobalt | Posted in , , | Posted on 7:28 AM

Rating: 4 / 5 stars.

I've heard about Holly Black in terms of awesomeness before, but I've never really gotten into her modern faeire tale series with Valiant, Tithe, and Ironside. It isn't that I doubted the reviews, but each time I picked up one of her books they failed to really grab me...the timing just felt off.

And then I went to the ALA Annual Conference in DC, and saw the lines for White Cat. I decided enough was enough! No more lollygagging! I would enter the world of Holly Black and not look back!

Oh man.

I was so not prepared for the awesome. First off, White Cat is a con man's story, which means it's full of twists and tricks and glorious lies. Second, this is a world of magic, where certain people -- called workers -- have the ability to curse others by touch alone. There is a ban on 'working,' and the government is eager to have mandatory tests to determine who has this ability (which workers are understandably eager to avoid). So everybody wears gloves, just to be safe. Meanwhile, a lot of workers are drawn into a black market world by their talents, recruited - and someones forced - to work for crime syndicates with their mojo.

The main story centers around Cassel, who seems like a decent guy. Okay, so maybe his mother's in jail for scamming rich guys out of their fortunes (with a little help from her emotional 'working' magic), and his brothers might be sort of working the black market with their talents for luck and broken bones, respectively, but Cassel doesn't have the working talent, so he's not in the family business. Instead, he's going to boarding school, becoming an upright young man and keeping out of trouble...except for that little betting pool he's operating on the side. Oh, and that time he murdered a girl in cold blood.

Um, yeah.

It took me a little while to get into this story, but once I was hooked and the con games got going, well -- I finished this one in a day. And kept making these shocked noises that disturbed my fellow passengers on various transports, because by the end my head was spinning off. I mean, I sort of saw one twist, but then there was another, and then I did not see that coming and oh what? -- so I just had to sit back and enjoy the ride.

As a narrator, Cassel was hard to warm to, especially given his habit of envisioning killing his ex-girlfriend as a sort of litmus test for Evil. (Cassel: Hmm, does the thought of strangling this girl fill me with horror? ....Yes...okay, so, still not evil!). But it was through his interactions with his family -- his crazy, criminal, messed-up family, that I really started to sympathize with him. By three-quarters of the way through the story had really kicked into gear and I was with Cassel to the end, whatever that turned out to be.

I'll stop babbling to avoid spoilers, but I can say now with confidence: Holly Black's reputation of awesome is fully justified. And con games + mobsters + prickly, difficult characters + magic = win.

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