White Cat by Holly Black
No-one at home is ever going to forget that Cassel is a killer. No-one at home is ever going to forget that he isn’t a magic worker. Cassel’s family are one of the big five crime families in America. Ever since magic was prohibited in 1929 magic workers have been driven underground and into crime. And while people still need their touch, their curses, their magical killings, their transformations, times have been hard. His granddad has been driven to drink, his mother is in prison and his brothers detest him as the only one of their family who can’t do magic. But there is a secret at the centre of Cassel’s family and he’s about to inherit it. It’s terrifying and that’s the truth.
Holly Black is most well known for being the co-creator, alongside illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi, of The Spiderwick Chronicles, a bestselling series aimed at younger readers which has also been adapted into a film, released in February 2008. Her first novel Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in 2002, and Valiant: A Modern Faerie Tale, a companion to her debut, was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award.
White Cat was published in 2010 by Gollancz and a Young Adult edition will be released in October 2011 by the new Orion imprint Indigo. This is the first title in The Curse Workers series, with two more to follow.
White Cat is the first novel I have read by Holly Black and it instantly caught my attention. The first thing that came to mind whilst flicking through it in the Science Fiction and Fantasy department is that it looks like a Young Adult book. The thing about this novel is that it kind of falls somewhere between YA and Adult. It’s perfect for older teens, and I’m very glad to see that it will be being published in October through new imprint Indigo, which will focus on fiction for this awkward age-range.
What I love most about White Cat is how it is so refreshingly different to most other YA books out there at the moment. It’s not about vampires and wolves, witches and ghosts. It’s about magic – pure and simple. Holly Black has created an entirely unique world where magic has been prohibited, and anyone known as a ‘worker’ of magic is essentially a criminal. They are forced into crime, crimes which are very much controlled by the big worker families who have become like a ‘magic mafia’. The mixture of gangsters and magic makes for a thrilling read – something unlike anything I have read before in the YA market.
Cassel is the only one of his family who isn’t a magic worker. This causes a huge rift between himself and his family. His relationship with his brothers is very strained and his life at school extremely difficult when all his fellow pupils assume he is also a worker. Cassel is a very endearing character, who is not without his faults. But he is extremely likeable and you can’t help but feel lost with him in this world in which he has no place. To make things worse, he is haunted by the memory of killing his best friend, Lila, daughter to one of the top criminal families in America. He has no idea why or how he did it – only that his brothers found him with her body and dealt with it for him.
Cassel is forced to work out what really happened that day, when he starts having odd dreams and begins sleepwalking on the roof of his school. The pieces of the puzzle aren’t quite fitting together like they once did, and as more secrets are slowly unveiled he begins his quest for the truth.
The characters in White Cat are superbly written – even the background cast of Cassel’s friends and his Grand-dad, a black-fingered death-dealer. They all bring something to the story and help give it some depth. The relationship between Cassel and Lila is well-written, and just slightly pushes those YA boundaries in an edge-of-your-seat suspense.
The only real criticism I have of this novel is that when you start reading it, you almost feel like it’s a sequel to another book. Holly Black makes you jump straight into this magical world of hers where everything is just a little bit different, and not quite explained. The first few references to ‘workers’ and other such terms had me confused and waiting for an explanation that is a long time coming. I would have loved a bit more of the history of magic to be weaved into the story but it never quite delves deep enough. I felt like I was only really hitting the surface of this world, and that I could have been drawn in much more than I was.
Aside from this, Holly Black set this novel up very well for the next title in the series Red Glove which is due for publication in June 2011. I must commend Black on the completely unpredictable ending in White Cat and found myself desperate to stay in the world in which she has created. I predict great things for Red Glove, and I shall be counting down the days until its publication!
You can check out Holly Black’s website here.
To read more about Orion’s new Imprint ‘Indigo’ click here.