Tuesday, February 8, 2011

White Cat (The Curse Workers) by Holly Black

The Curse Workers by Holly Black

What You Need to Know:  A supernatural/crime mash-up, this is the rare "teen paranormal" from a male POV with guy appeal.

Summary:  Cassel is a normal kid with an abnormal family.  His mother, grandfather and both his brothers are curse workers -- individuals able to do magic with touch.  Curse workers are criminals by nature, as curse work is illegal.  Most curse workers are tied to major crime families, and Cassel's are no exception.  Mom's in jail, both brothers are enforcers.  But family sticks together, even when Cassel is at a boarding school, trying to live down his dark past..  However, Cassel loves the con too much to go completely straight.  When a white cat keeps appearing in his dreams, it leads Cassel down a dangerous path.

What Worked:  Holly Black doesn't back away from the dark stuff.   Something I've always liked about her work is that she doesn't sugar-coat things.  Here, she shows exactly what a life of organized crime is like.  Cassel's family may love him, may even think they're protecting him, but they are not good guys.   

Black also does a lot of really nice, really subtle world building here.  Everybody wears gloves, as touch is dangerous.  There are different types of curse workers, some good, some bad.  Stones can be spelled against the curses.  Black doesn't feel the need to tell you this upfront, but organically weaves the details through the story.  In my opinion, this is what separates a great fantasy book from a good fantasy book.

What also works well is the voice here.  Cassel isn't a terribly reliable narrator (for various spoilery reasons) and he knows he's not one of the good guys.   He tries, but he just loves the con too much.   Also,  Cassel is a guy and sounds like one, which is a nice change in a paranormal focused series.  

Finally, there's the plot.  Like all good con jobs, shows you its cards then pulls a fast one.  I can't say to much for fear of being spoileriffic, but does a fantastic job of ducking and feinting, and ending with a sucker punch.

What Didn't:  There is a lot of plot and world building here, so some of the characters get shoved to the sides.  Particularly Cassel's brother Phillip, who can harm with touch, isn't as fleshed out as he could be.

However:  I honestly didn't care.  I tore through this in one sitting, and am now desperate for the sequel.

Who would I give this book too:  Teens looking for a paranormal with more bite than the crop of Twilight clones; guys who are secret paranormal readers, fans of twisty plots.

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