White Cat by Holly Black

White Cat by Holly Black

I’d never read any of Holly Black’s books before I picked up White Cat. Faeries were never my favorite,but I bought White Cat because it was about magicians. Curse workers, to be precise. And, because I’m me, the cover sucked me in. It was cool and magician-y while still being kind of mysterious and completely fitting with the demographic. Not to mention the book. It’s hard to do a cool cover and have it make sense with the pages inside, but White Cat definitely succeeded there.

White Cat tells the story of Cassel, the only untalented member of a notorious family of curse workers. Curse workers are like magicians. Through touch, they can perform all manner of magic: emotional manipulation, memory modification, death, you name it. But each curse worker has a specific skill, their particular curse, and they can’t go outside of its bounds. The more powerful the curse worker, the more in demand they are – in demand for less than savory assignments. Cassel’s family is powerful. His whole life they’ve been involved in criminal applications of their skill. He can’t shake the feeling that they had something to do with the long-ago disappearance of Lila, his best friend and the first girl he ever cared about.  And he can’t shake the feeling that something unusual is happening in his nightmares, nightmares haunted by a white cat that reminds him of Lila. All around him, Cassel’s world is falling apart and everything he thought he knew about himself and his family and the world of curse workers is called into question when weird things start stemming from his nightmares.

The plotting of this book was magnificent. It’s really rare for that to be something I latch onto in any novel, but here I loved it. There was a good mystery that was well foreshadowed without the answers being obvious. The pacing was perfect – you could feel Cassel’s anticipations and frustrations because the roadblocks were thrown up for the readers as much as they were for him. And, most importantly for me, it was a good vehicle to let the characters come alive because they were always doing things. There were things happening, and, as strange as this may sound, that is something that seems to have slipped away in YA novels in favor of longing looks and conversations about Feelings.

And part of that plot was Cassel’s journey. His “self-discovery” (I always feel lame when I use that phrase, but that’s what it is!) is so well integrated into the plot and what’s going on around him that it doesn’t feel like all you’re reading is an emotional reaction. He takes charge – not always well – but he does and it worked so well with the rest of the book.

It’s hard for me to talk about how much I loved Cassel, because…I loved him a lot. He was imperfect. He had a tendency to be rash and impulsive. His moral compass seems a little wobbly at times. But the thing about Cassel is that it always ends up pointing in the right direction. There are lines that couldn’t be crossed with him that weren’t there for his brothers, and I loved that. There’s a difference between being the kind of character who is going to break school rules and scam a pet adoption center versus the kind of character who is a creepy stalker or a murderer or a manipulator.

The background characters were very well drawn as well. It’s hard in a book where the main character’s family members are the “villains” to walk the line between total emotional detachment and turning a blind eye. Cassel knows what his family is and who they are, but they’re his family. He’s not going to help them or let them do things he thinks are wrong, but at the end of the day they’re still his family. His struggle to reconcile those two things was one of my favorite parts of this book.

White Cat is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s dark and ominous and mysterious while still having some of the best written characters I’ve read in a young adult book. It’s the perfect balance between the nitty gritty of a criminal life, the fantasy of the curse workers, and the coming-of-age story of Cassel. I’ve re-read pieces of this book more than once since I bought it, and I would consider doing some very, very bad things to be able to read the sequel, Red Glove, omgrightnow.

And…because more people should be around to discuss Cassel with me, I’m giving away a SIGNED copy! All you have to do to enter is 1) live in North America and 2) comment on this entry sometime between now and Monday, November 15 at midnight CST. Tell me what magical skill – if you could only have one – you would want. Good luck!


  1. Thanks for the review, I’ve been seeing this book around and for some reason I never get it. I guess I just think it won’t be that great of a book even though I’ve seen a couple of really great reviews of it. Anyways, if I could have ONE magical skill, it would definitely be the ability to apparate! It’s just so fucking convenient and I find myself wishing I could apparate almost daily. Thanks for the giveaway!

  2. Holly Black is one of my favorite authors (right up there with Tamora Pierce and Naomi Novik) and though I haven’t had a chance to pick up White Cat yet, I’m excited about reading it! I can’t wait to get my hands on the book and read the newest story Holly Black have weaved. I loved her work in Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside. I loved the characters in those stories and the plot she weaved and I can’t wait to read White Cat.

    If I could have only one magical skill, I think it would be… The ability to say suggest something, capture that person’s will, and have them unable to turn it down. It could be used in a wide manner, from suggesting to someone that you were never there and have them forget seeing you there, to suggesting more malicious things– like convincing someone to give you their money or to even jump off a bridge. It would be a terrible responsibility to have and one could be either good or evil with this power. The question is how they would use it and if they would do the right thing.
    I would certainly question my own morals and my own self if I had a gift that powerful… Especially if I was angry about something.

  3. Great giveaway. I missed the signing in Toronto last week and I really wanted to be there. I haven’t read White Cat yet, but am a very big fan of Holly Black. Loved your review.

    If I were to have a magic ability I would want to be able to change items into other items…. like a piece of junkmail into a book, or a piece of cheese into a new pet mouse. Could be fun. :)

  4. Really want to read this book. Your point about how “they were always doing things” really spoke to me as I agree, this is sometimes lacking in YA books.
    If I could have only one magical ability… I don’t know, to fly, maybe? I think that would be very cool :)

  5. I absolutely loved White Cat! I couldn’t believe it when I got it from the library and there was no wait list (no one else wanted to read it). Anyway, if I would have an ability, I think I’d take a page out of White Cat and be a luck worker. That way, I’d give good luck to others and always get back good luck for myself. It’s a win-win situation!

  6. Being unemployed for more than a year, I haven’t gotten around to purchasing this book. I’m hoping to win it or get it for a Solstice gift. Holly Black is a great author and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this book. As far as a magical ability, I’d like to be able to teleport. Myself, my friends, things and so on. Teleporting would be very handy.

  7. It’s been awhile since I last read anything by Holly Black, but the concept of curse working intrigues me (and for some reason I’m getting magical!mafia-esque vibes. I think it must be the whole criminal family thing.)

    I’d love to have the magical ability to take a mental image of something and then bring it into reality–kind of like a 3D printer.

  8. Oh my gosh, I loved this book so much.

  9. I loved White Cat! I think it would be cool to have the ability to transform things like Cassel :) I think it would be fun to transform people into random objects. With their permission of course :) I would also like to be able to turn myself into an animal, I think that would be fun hehe.

  10. Sorry, last comment blew. I got off work, though, and am procrastinating from nanowrimo.. so I figured I’d comment again.

    White Cat is one of those books that I can’t get out of my mind. It’s not that Cassel’s power is so super cool to me, or that any one individual aspect of the book rocks my world… It’s how it all came together.

    The fact that Cassel was the transmogrifier (made that word up) blew my mind. Blew. my. mind.

    I was so happy. Like not because it was a rejoicing moment, but just because I honestly did not predict the things that happened in this book, and they still fit flawlessly together.

    GOD. SO GOOD. I CAN’T EVEN. Time for a reread.

  11. Man… comment #3… I only expect one entry though, I swear. I just didn’t see that there was contest until right now.

    If I could have any magical skill I’d want to be an emotion worker, I think. Although the blowback would suck.

  12. I love Holly Black; TITHE is one of my favorite books of the last several years. I’ve heard nothing but good about WHITE CAT and can’t wait to read it! Am especially glad to hear it’s got a great plot, as I and my writer friends are all obsessed with plot at the moment.

    As for magical ability I’d want: at first I thought I’d like to write wonderful books by magic: exactly what I dream of — or better — without effort. Just have them bubble forth magically and enchant everyone. But somehow, that feels too much like cheating, and also I suspect if it happened magically, without effort, I’d be missing the best part of writing!

    So now I’m torn. Maybe I’d like the ability to make wonderful music, and enchant everyone to either dance or fall into a dream as they listened to it. Or to fly. Yeah.

  13. I love basically love YA novels with male narrators… such a wonderful review!!! I would love to enter this contest :)

    Hmm, as for the magical ability: does being smart count? Because I’d love to be smart and stuff… or be great at writing.. but I dont think that counts. Honestly, I think i’d say the cliched choice of reading minds, except for this type of mind-reading doesn’t mean my head is bombarded with other peoples thoughts, more like selective (both person and time-wise) mindreading. interesting question!

  14. Awesome review and giveaway! If I could have any superpower it would probably be the ability to travel in time (without messing up the space/time continuum). That way I could meet all my favorite people and relive fun moments in life. ^.^

  15. Love Holly Black, and I am looking forward to reading this one! As for magical ability…that’s a tough
    one, since it seems like many would have unforeseen or unintended consequences. Maybe the ability
    to calm?

  16. That’s a hard question to answer! But if I had to choose something, I’d want a magical power that would make people happy all the time!

  17. Holly Black is definitely my favorite writer right now. She’s amazing; I really can’t wait for Red Glove.

    Telekinesis, definitely. Not because I’m lazy (although I must admit that I am) but just because it would be awesome.

  18. I haven’t read anything by Holly since Tithe and I am just beyond thrilled to see another series. I hope to read this one soon.

    What kind of magical ability would I want either to read minds, because people seem to think EVERYONE can do that so I actually want to do it. Or getting to a place far away or into another room quickly. I don’t know what that ability is called. I’ve always thought instant transmission like Goku does in Dragon Ball Z <—anime nerd. :p

  19. I have yet to read this book! I wish I had the ability to immediately get wherever I wanted to go. My family lives 4000 miles away and it’d be awesome to be able to visit anytime! Lol awesome contest by they way! Good luck everyone and congrats to whom ever wins!

  20. I love Holly Black’s work and I love faeries, but this book was great even without the faeries lol.

    If I could have a magical power I’d want to be able to capture people’s minds so they’ll do what I want them too!!!

  21. I was able to kind of meet Holly last week during an event. She was a hilarious presenter!

    If I had a magical power, I would like to be able to fly…and fly fast, too, if I wanted, so travel was really easy!

  22. This book is certainly on my reading list, every Holly Black book should be on everyone’s reading list in my opinion.

    As for powers….I would like the ability to see to the past. By touching the raw building (Ie raw brick work, or steel work) be able to see back to what everything looked like at any historical point in that building’s history. Like watching its video history. i wouldn’t want to interact, then there is the whole risk of changing the future – right? – but to see a city any time in its past would be AMAZING!

  23. Thanks for the great review…
    If I could have one power, I would want to be a healer, be able to heal anything, of course their would be consequences but it would be soooo worth it.

  24. White Cat is my favorite book by Holly Black- it was so amazing :)

    If I could have a magical power I would want to be able to read minds, however, I would want to be able to turn it off or on when I want to otherwise I think it would drive me crazy.

  25. Holly Black is very much my favorite, even though I have now reached the ancient age of 22, aka I really shouldn’t be wandering around the Teen Book section anymore. This new series is an adequate replacement for my addiction to the Tithe realm, her writing has certainly changed, and i enjoy the new edge.

  26. Oops, silly me. magical skill…… flying would be lovely, i’ve always wanted to be able to do that since i was little

  27. I loved this book! I don’t own a copy of it, but I have read it before. I loved Cassel! Great review. I think it would be tough to choose a magical skill. I think being able to teleport or dissaparate (HP!) would be awesome. Then I would not have to commute every day to work. It would be wonderful. seescootread[at]gmail[dot]com

  28. I too had never read Holly before White Cat. The fact that Cassel is imperfect is the draw. He is a normal person with flaws. If I had a power I’d want it to be compulsion. It would be so nice to have people do what I tell them to do when I tell them to do it.

  29. I’ve been dying to read White Cat! I’d love to win. Thanks for the giveaway!

    My magical ability would be teleportation (or aparation, depending on what book you’re reading). I have spent enough time driving and flying to get places, and I think teleportation would open up the entire world to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel. It also makes it so you don’t spent days of your free time stuck in an airplane. I mean, how cool would it be to say “I think I’d like to go to Ireland today” and just go there for an afternoon. OK, now I’m starting to feel sad that I can’t do this…

  30. I. Would want the ability to change my appearance to whatever I wanted. I would never have a bad hair day again.

  31. I’d definitely want flight. It sounds generic, but most other abilities would backfire on you, I think. Being able to fly would be both magically joyful, and practical.

  32. I have not yet read this book but have been dying to!! It sounds so intriguing! I think I would want the ability to capture a person’s special abilities for a while. Then I could truly accomplish anything (as long as I found the right person with the abilities I needed!) Thank you so much for doing this!!!

  33. Great giveaway! The magical power I would love to have would be the ability to be in two places at once. I`d get fun stuff and work done! :)

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