Cassel Sharpe, our narrator, is the youngest in his family of “curse workers” – magic users. But unlike his mother and brothers and grandfather, he doesn’t have any powers of his own. He’s an outsider, isolated from his family, but also from the rest of the world, brought up to be a conman, and hiding a very dark secret. He doesn’t know how or why, but he killed his best friend, Lila. His brothers have told him how they found him and protected him. His secret is safe, even from himself.
Cassel goes to a boarding school where he runs a betting pool to earn the money he needs to keep up appearances and to give himself a role to play in the school’s social life. But the whole charade, as well as Cassel, nearly comes tumbling down when he wakes one night on the roof of the school dorms, after a dream about a white cat. Forced to return to his family home, he slowly becomes aware that his brothers are still keeping secrets from him.
This is the second series by Holly Black that I’ve read. I had mixed feelings about the Modern Faerie Tale series, as you’ll see if you check out my reviews of Tithe and Valiant. I found it difficult to empathise with Kaye’s story in Tithe and found the pacing hard to get on with, but on the other hand I loved the worldbuilding and adored Valiant – it’s one of my favourite books.
I think that a lot of readers tried Tithe and didn’t like it, so they’ve never given Holly Black another chance, and that’s why I hadn’t heard a whole lot about White Cat before reading it.
But for me it was a must-read. What I loved most about the Modern Faerie Tales was that the teenaged characters seemed so real. They have messed-up families, and create powerful bonds with their friends. They do things that are morally dodgy. They are by turns selfish and selfless. Sometimes they run away from their problems, and other times they try desperately to put their wits to work and fix everything.
I was hoping to get more of the same with the Curse Workers series, and I was not the slightest bit disappointed. I really, really loved this book. I loved it so much that a) I got the second book in this series and started reading it immediately afterwards and b) I lent my copy of White Cat to my boyfriend (he also really enjoyed it – it made his Best of 2014 Books list).
As much as I love the classic paranormal creatures, vampires, witches, fairies and the rest, it was totally refreshing to read about something new. The idea of ‘curse workers’ is brilliant and fits in so well with the criminal gangs that Cassel’s family are involved with. I also loved that the story revolves around several mysteries – Cassel is the perfect narrator for this, observant and critical. The writing is very well balanced between action and exposition.
I did guess some elements of the big reveal, but that didn’t stop me enjoying how it all played out and there were some parts that I didn’t anticipate.
In short, White Cat is amazing, Holly Black is underrated, and you should go read it now.