Friday, October 1, 2010

Here Kitty, Kitty

White Cat by Holly Black (2010)
Harper Collins; Hard Cover; 320 pages; ISBN: 978141696397

Like the crime families in White Cat, authors are some of the biggest con artists out there. The audience may be the ones being conned with an exquisitely woven story, but they never get hurt; the characters invariably do.

Holly Black is an exceptional artist and watching her characters undergo hardships is exceptionally rewarding.

Cassel Sharpe begins with being suspended from his boarding school for sleepwalking onto a roof. From a family of con artists, his mother in prison, his brother working for the mafia, and his best friend dead from mysterious circumstances three years ago, he's desperate to get back into the institution as quickly as possible. Cassel excels in pretending to be normal. His problems are confounded, however, by the fantasy elements of the novel.

In the world of White Cat, people known as curse workers can cause luck, change memories, charm people into falling in love by touching other. They compromise a very small percentage of the population, but their effects are widely feared. Everyone wears gloves, an all too understandable attempt at minimizing the danger.

It's a thoughtfully developed world nearly as deceptive as its initially straightforward plot.

The characters and their narrative may appear as sexy and alluring as a an episode of Bones or Sopranos, but the implications and causes of curses can be bleak. Cassel suffers enough being the only non-magic user in a family of curse workers.

Some of Black's twists are clear early on, like the truth behind the secret that motivated our hero to attend boarding school in the first place, but the turns grow deeper and the revelations more satisfying. After the halfway point, it becomes difficult to put the book down and think of anything else besides Cassel, his family, and his cons.

I read Black's Tithe series during my early teens, but the emotional investment I ended up devoting to White Cat still caught me off-guard. Black balances the travails of young adulthood and fantasy beautifully, creating darkly involving characters. She doesn't hesitate to throw in melodrama, but it's never overwhelming.

The largest flaw with the book is it stops too soon, which is just my way of saying that I want to read more.
Judging by the title page and addictive characters, it's only the beginning to The Curse Workers series. I get the sense that I haven't finished a book but have read the first part of a much longer story.

So. Is this book good, fun, both, or neither?

A fun fantasy/mystery/thriller fusion executed by one of the most talented YA authors of the past couple decades.

Required reading for crime drama and magic enthusiasts. Yes, both.