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Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black

white cat holly black Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black

My first attempt, several years ago, to read Holly Black ended after roughly twenty or so pages. The book in question was Valiant, quite an appropriate title for the effort I had to muster to get that far. I was overwhelmed by the oh-so-punky, oh-so-seedy, oh-so-angsty vibe of it all, despite being a punky, angsty (and yes, I admit it, gothy) teen at the time. But Black is one of those authors who seems to be beloved by all, so when I came across the audio version of White Cat I thought Id give her a second chance. Although I did make it all the way through this one, I have to say that Ive come to the conclusion that Black just isnt the writer for me.

White Cat'is the first in a trilogy set in a world where a small subset of people are born with the ability to work various types of magic. These are known as workers and, as working has been outlawed over the years, either exist as an underclass using their skills illicitly (or on the black market), or adopt a facade of normalcy, pretending that their gift does not exist. Cassel Sharpe, however, has to do no such thing: though his entire family are workers, he possesses no magical skill of his own. But when Cassel starts experiencing strange dreams and odd memories, he begins to suspect that perhaps hes not as normal as his family has always made out.

Indeed, Cassel is unusual in several ways, not least of which being the fact that he is tormented by guilt from a crime he committed when he was fourteen: the murder of his friend and maybe-lover Lila. But though his memory of the event is as clear as daylight in his mind, his dreams seem to be suggesting something to him about that fateful nightsomething that he cant quite put his finger on. Given his familys curse worker background, is it possible that not everything is as it seems?

The setting of'White Cat is an intriguing one, or rather, it should be. The idea of curse workers and their being driven underground is novel, but Black doesnt give much space to world building. Her approach initially seems to be oblique, with the audience required to piece together the situation from the hints being dropped, but after a while the realisation arises that the world building not so much subtle as underdeveloped. Bits of backstory are info-dumped into Cassels history lessons (Australia, with its convict background, is full of workers) and random speeches from family members as well as a considerable number of as you know, Bobs litter the dialogue. The result is something that feels uneven and ad hoc, with the reader getting the sense that Black is developing her world as she goes along, rather than building a story on a solid base. I just cant help but feel that were there such things as workers in our history, our world would be substantially different from the one that Black gives us, which is for all intents and purposes effectively the same.

The plot, too, is slow-moving, with a good two-thirds of the book given over to various pranks, games, and bets, and theres no real sense of urgency until the last section of the book, at which point everything slots neatly (and rather forcedly) into place, and were given a twist that feels, to me at least, a little cheap and unnecessaryas though Black is trying to redeem this slow-moving book with her trademark howzat? edginess. Its a shame, because the opening chapter is a killer that sucks you in and promises big things, and I did start out with high hopes for this one.

Unfortunately it wasnt just the plot that I struggled with here, but the characters as well: like Valiant, everyone in White Cat'seems to be all about posturing and being angstily cool. It wears thin after a while, and makes sympathising with any of the key characters a struggle. Given that the plot is so understated here, character is key, but Blacks black-and-white approach to her characters (with the exception of Cassel, who is given some nuance, albeit angsty misunderstood-con-artist-woe-is-me nuance) means that this aspect is disappointing as well.

I know that Im in the minority here, but I found'White Cat'a struggle, and I was disappointed by both the lazy approach to world-building and the too-tidy conclusion. Theres a good deal of potential here, but in my opinion the story felt stripped back to the point of shallowness and the characters lacked realism and humanity. Having said that, however, Im aware that this series'has met with considerable success, so its fair to say that your mileage may vary.

Rating: star Book Review: White Cat by Holly Blackstar Book Review: White Cat by Holly Blackblankstar Book Review: White Cat by Holly Blackblankstar Book Review: White Cat by Holly Blackblankstar Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black (okay)

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Other books by Holly Black:

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  1. I got this out from the library a while back but never got to reading it. I think I read a couple of pages and then moved on to another book. I have heard so many good things about this one and the second book in the series but Im not sure if I will go back now and give it a go. There are too many books out there. I have a pretty low patience threshold with books. My reading time is limited so I have no issues with not finishing a book if Im not connecting with it.

  2. Stephanie /

    Its a great idea in concept, Mo, but doesnt quite work for me as a reader. Although admittedly I listened to this one in audio format, so maybe a print version would be better-suited to me.

    Im reading one of Kristen Painters at the moment, and Im struggling with it, too. I have so many great things to read that I get frustrated when I try to work through something that isnt to my taste.

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