Friday, August 8, 2014

Book Review - Holly Black's White Cat

White Cat (Curse Workers Book 1) by Holly Black
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: May 4th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Cassel almost killed himself. He didn't mean to and he has no idea how he ended up on the roof of his dorm in the middle of the night. But this little escapade has him suspended from school pending further inquiry into his "sleepwalking." In the meantime that means he's sent back to his family. His family of Curse Workers. His mom is actually in jail because of her manipulation of a millionaire, so he is thrust on his brothers and grandfather, all of whom are using their "abilities" to help the mob run by Zacharov. Zacharov whose daughter Lila disappeared a few years earlier. But Cassel knows the truth. He killed her. He killed the girl he loved. Though not with "magic" just his own two hands, because Cassel doesn't have any powers. He has no "magic." But growing up in his family he knows how to cheat, gamble, grift and con. So he has no worries about getting himself back into school, it'll be easy. Yet nothing is easy once a white cat walks out of his dreams and into his life.

There are times in life when there's just too much shit raining down on you that you don't think anything will help. All you want to do is get lost somewhere, for me that's usually between the pages of a book. But you have your doubts that it's even possible with the weight of the world on your shoulders. I was in such a frame of mind when I picked up White Cat and I can't lie, I struggled at first to get into the book. The blending of diverse genres wasn't drawing me in and the magic system seemed too loosely defined and the outside world kept nagging at me to pay attention to it. But then that magical thing happened. All book lovers will know what I mean. All of a sudden, about sixty pages in, the book hooked me. I didn't want to stop reading, despite the late hour and the emotional day making my eyelids droop. This book isn't by any means a masterpiece, it's not a book that changed my outlook on the world. But White Cat did give me a reprieve from the world and for that I will ever be grateful.

White Cat is a bizarre combination of genres, it's like the first X-Men movie with some Harry Potter thrown in with the larger framework being Boardwalk Empire meets Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, because that is the best con artist movie of all time hands down, there's no debating that fact. All these differing genres were more at war with each other then forming a cohesive whole, making the book very disjointed. The first major hurtle was the system of "magic" or I should say "curses." You are thrown headfirst into the deep end, where it feels like Black just expects you to intuitively know how this system works. I'm not sure if this was purposeful or not. Cassel himself is half ignorant of the workings of the world he lives in, so maybe this was to make use relate more to him and learn along with him. Which, if that is the case, I guess it makes sense, but it made the book hard to get into.

The aspect of the book that just made me latch on was when the history of Curse Workers was discussed. The way Curse Work is associated with the criminal element and Australia, being a penal colony, having many Workers is fascinating to me. Plus the prohibition gangster aspects and the rise of organized crime. Also the mythic and heroic history, like the Russian Folklore that peeps in, why can't the book be all this? I keep thinking, if this was done as a period piece, like Boardwalk Empire, it might, just might, be the coolest book ever. Also people wore more gloves in olden times!

But for everything that goes right in the book, for all the originality, there is an equally strong reliance on tropes. You better be a fan of worldbuilding to enjoy this book because there aren't many surprises in store plotwise. Two big plot points are so obvious, instead of leaving breadcrumbs to hint at the truth it felt like Black was leaving baguettes. Big crunchy French baguettes probably a day old so they are a little hard and capable of beating a man to death. Luckily Black doesn't wait to the book's denouement to reveal these obvious twists, because if they had been the big finale, this book wouldn't be being written about favorably right now.

But what I took most issue with is that the little gang, the threesome of Cassel, Sam and Daneca, are just Harry, Ron and Hermione. Now I know that J.K. Rowling didn't invent this pairing, she doesn't have a claim on it, but seriously, YA authors, stop emulating it! It's old hat, it's lazy, it's played out. In simple words, stop. Black is even more obvious then most with Daneca being an exact clone of Hermione, heck she even forms her own version of S.P.E.W. called HEX, for the repressed workers! And the whole bushy brown hair swot thing too. Yes the Harry Potter books changed YA literature forever. Guess what? You're not going to write the next Harry Potter so move on. Build you own world, write your own book, don't borrow, and in the case of your friend Cassandra Clare, don't steal. This could be an awesome series if it stays on track... and if it doesn't have anymore epic cover fails. Short haired white cat! Sheesh, not long haired...


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