Ahh, the freedom to choose any book from your shelf, sit down and read it. I gave myself a 'Get Out Of Jail Free Card' and decided to pick up whatever the hell I wanted instead of my review copies - hence White Cat. I'm so, so glad I did though. I've never read any of Holly Black's previous books (like The Spiderwick Chronicles) but since I went out and purchased the second book in the Curseworker series, Red Glove, before I actually finished this one, it's safe to say it won't be long before I do.
Plot summary - 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 criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn't got magic, so he's an outsider, the striaght 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 outcon the conmen.
I absolutely loved this book and, like I said above, I bought Red Glove before I even knew how this one ended. It's just wonderful. I've never read a book with a plot even vaguely similar to this one, and the world that Holly Black has created is so completely unique I was hooked.
It's definitely the world-building and the new society that really makes White Cat. While the existence of magic is widely-known, the masses are terrified of it. 'Workers,' as those with magic are known, are so feared that everyone, magic-possessing or otherwise, is forced to wear gloves at all times to prevent the skin-to-skin touch necessary for a 'working.' There are new laws, slang and discriminations to take in, but it never feels overwhelming or confusing.It just feels complete somehow. Holly Black has obviously put a lot of care and effort into creating a consistent and realistic society that jumps from the page. The book just wouldn't be the same without it.
The plot is just amazingly inventive and is actually very clever. A few developments were a little predictable, but on the whole the storyline goes in some very intricate directions. I don't know where Holly Black gets her ideas from, but I will happily sit here and read every single one of them.
Cassel himself is an okay protagonist, even if his name does make me think of Nathan Fillion every time I see it. Honestly though, he does feel a little flat. He believes plot twists and revelations just a little too easily, much like the fictional teenage girls who find their new boyfriend is a vampire just dandy. Aside from that, he's likeable enough but he pales in comparison to some of the other characters. His brothers and his Grandad are much more intricate and well-rounded - masterpieces of character creation.
There's a distinct lack of atmosphere in White Cat, even at the theoretically dramatic ending. The words are great and so is the plot and the characters, but it could do with a little extra spark I think. I understand it's probably easier said than done, but it's what prevented me from bumping up from four stars to five.
Please, please run out and buy White Cat. And possibly Red Glove, you'll need it. It's not really suitable for a younger audience due to occasional sexual references and violence, but if you're after a unique and wonderfully crafted fantasy novel, you're in the right place. Incidentally, aren't the UK covers wonderful?