Oh twitterverse, I want to say ‘thank you.’ I’d never read a Holly Black book before picking up White Cat. I knew vaguely that she had written some ‘modern faerie tales,’ but I didn’t feel any urgency to find those titles. Then White Cat was released. The twittering world exploded, blog reviews went up all over the place, and someone said the magic words: ‘best book of the year.’
Just like that, my antennae went up. Well, it's quite a claim. I'll give anything proclaimed 'best of the year' a try, as long as I trust the speaker. But even if a book sparks my interest, I won’t necessarily go out and buy it. If that were the case, I’d be buried under a mountain of books (literally), and also quite broke. So instead I checked the local library system and found a copy. Here’s my shout-out to the Arlington Library System! The book was in my possession within the week.
Cassel comes from a family of curse workers -- people who have the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, by the slightest touch of their hands. And since curse work is illegal, they're all mobsters, or con artists. Except for Cassel. He hasn't got the magic touch, so he's an outsider, the straight kid in a crooked family. You just have to ignore one small detail -- he killed his best friend, Lila, three years ago.
Ever since, Cassel has carefully built up a façade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his façade starts crumbling when he starts sleepwalking, propelled into the night by terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants to tell him something. He's noticing other disturbing things, too, including the strange behavior of his two brothers. They are keeping secrets from him, caught up in a mysterious plot. As Cassel begins to suspect he's part of a huge con game, he also wonders what really happened to Lila. To find that out, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.
Holly Black has created a gripping tale of mobsters and dark magic where a single touch can bring love – or death – and your dreams might be more real than your memories.
My undiluted reaction: fan-freaking-tabulous. Just the sort of con caper that makes my insides liquefy and my brain start working in overdrive. If it were translated immediately into film-form, it would rank right up there with Ocean’s 11, The Italian Job, and Brothers Bloom. Those are, by the way, some of my favorite films. I get a rush from the cleverness, the con, and the bit-by-bit reveal. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for me. Not even kidding. I don’t even like mystery as a genre; I like people getting played, and the story itself getting the best of me until the last second.
I also love a twist, an unexpected conclusion and a clever switch. I don’t want to explain more, because one of this book’s main strengths is its inscrutability and the unraveling thereof. Cassel and company were a great cast of characters, though not all are equal or equally interesting. But each person fits in the novel, and I didn’t feel like anyone was there as a placeholder or simply for a future set-up. I guess I’m just trying to say that it’s smooth, seamless, and beautiful. Here’s hoping there are many more adventures, cons and magic-filled moments in their future.
Recommended for: adventurers, daredevils, and those who want to join the club (or at least read about it), appreciators of clever stories, dark magic and dark times, and anyone in the mood for sharp, brilliant entertainment at its best and finest.
This book counts for the Once Upon a Time IV challenge.