Holly Black – White Cat

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. And now he is being haunted by a white cat…

Cassel’s family are magic workers. Ever since magic was prohibited in 1929 magic workers have been driven underground and into crime. His grand-dad is a black-fingered death-dealer, 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’s White Cat was another London buy recommended by Liz, who really tried to fix some glaring gaps in my YA reading! White Cat had been on my radar before London however, mostly due to the lovely Gollancz cover, since being a cat person a good cover featuring a cat will catch my eye every time. Even though I had a rocky start to begin with – I had a hard time getting into the story and connecting to Cassel – I ended up loving this book.

One aspect that really won me over was the con aspect of it, as I love Hustle and it reminded me of that at times. Much like Hustle‘s writers, Black succeeds in making con-loving Cassel sympathetic, despite him being a manipulative and devious kid. Especially once we move away from the school setting and get to the meat of the story Cassel becomes more and more likeable and we get more of a feel for why he has this love of the con and why he became that way. On the one hand, Black shows us the tricks behind the con, the sleight of hand and misdirection that goes into it, on the other, the reader gets conned as well, as Cassel tricks us too in the end.

Once it gets going the plot is intricate and fast and the reader really needs to pay attention, not just to catch what Cassel is doing, but also to catch what is going on in his family. The twist to the story is amazing; I didn’t see that one coming until just before it happened. There are so many layers of misdirection and deceit to the plot, that working all of them out is a challenge, but one I gladly undertook, because figuring everything out and checking back to see what clues I missed, was actually quite a lot of fun.

The central conceit of the story is the idea of Prohibition-like ban on Working, as the magic in Black’s reality is called. And I really loved that idea, because it made for interesting consequences to society’s development. The world building required to pull this conceit off was well done. It’s not very obvious, but it is all pervasive. Black doesn’t give us much of an idea how much history has been changed by the prohibition on Working, but she does show how divided society has become, between non-Workers and Workers and how Workers are automatically regarded as being criminally inclined, a perception strengthened by the mob-like ‘royal’ Worker families, such as the Zacharovs that Cassel’s family work for.

The characters are fun, even if we have a relatively small cast of main players. Cassel is great; as I said above, I like how the author manages to make him likeable despite his pretty substantial character flaws and I think his development throughout the novel was really well done and convincing. My favourite characters, however, were Sam and Daneca, Cassel’s school friends, who to his surprise stand by him despite discovering who he truly is. I loved Sam’s nerdy cuteness and the way he and Daneca sort of slip into boyfriend/girlfriend status almost without noticing. Cassel’s mum is just a disaster. She’s completely clueless and I just wanted to slap her every time she got Cassel on the phone. Cassel’s brothers are awful, showing how power and envy can corrupt anyone and that sometimes family can be your worst enemies. I really liked Cassel’s Granddad, though; because at the start of the book, I found him somewhat sinister and scary and thought he didn’t really like Cassel, but it turns out he’s a really sweet man and Cassel’s greatest ally in his family circle.

The con is on in White Cat and I had a great time with it. It is a great book, fast-paced, tricky and exciting and I can’t recommend it highly enough, especially if, like me, you’re catching up on YA goodness. I can’t wait to get my hands on the other two books in this series, Red Glove, which came out from Gollancz last year and Black Heart, which is due out this April.