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I'm immortally interested in cultural/literary deconstructions, feminism, anti-racism, South Korea, Supernatural, Sherlock Holmes, Hayao Miyazaki, Diana Wynne Jones, food (including but not limited to maple butter, tomatoes, and toast), fairy tales, parentheses, paper airplanes, films and books.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


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. Could she still be alive? 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.

White Cat was one of those stories that you aren't sure what you feel exactly until that thing hits you. The thing that decides it all. It could be a bad thing, like a certain twist that you saw coming literally miles away. White Cat certainly had its fair share of predictable plot twists. The biggest one of which was more obvious than others. Because of these twists, it is impossible of reviewing the story inch by inch without spoiling it.

Going back to "that thing", it can be summed up with one name: Lila.

Lila is by far the best character in this book. Cassel himself comes in second with a couple of major flaws but Lila triumphs him several times over.

Numero Uno: she was the white cat, which all of you will know by chapter three. And I love cats. Cats are my favorite animals with birds coming in second and possibly wolves. (And NO I am not a twihard; I loved wolves before they became a sad cliche.)

Dos: Maybe my brain is tired from the amount of stress I've gone through but I don't remember Lila crying once. She's rife with male characteristics, which I remember everyone attributing to Katniss of the Hunger Games, and has the ability of all Male YA Heros to make the protagonist short of breath, weak in the knees and completely and irrevocably confused. Despite his insistence that he's still in love with this "other" girl. When Lila announces her intention of getting revenge, it's Cassel who has that soft heart, who convinces her to letting his brothers go. Which brings me to the next point:

Tres: Lila is also the Heir. The Chosen One. But unlike Cassel, she's determined to make people understand that she's the boss. Even after three years of being stuck in a cage as she describes, even when she goes right for her father, it's not to cry on his shoulder, it's not to ask him to get revenge. That's her job. Lila plans ahead, knowing the consequences of the wrong move. She wants her existence a secret so she can get her own vengeance and show her daddy who's boss.

Can I stress that enough?

Lila was a dream worker but other than tormenting Cassel with nightmares, I don't recall her using it to get back the people who tried to kill her.

Cassel is another strong character but the whole I-have-no-powers-oh-wait-my-parents-hid-it-from-me-to-keep-me-safe-because-I'm-suuuuuuper-powerful trope is tired and so, so played out. I thought that was the way the book was going at first and then a third way through I was getting the inkling that maybe Holly Black was going to keep him without powers - which would have been extremely, extremely kickass - and then halfway through BAM! "Dude, I have powers!" Le sigh. Throughout the book his voice even changes from being poetic and a little lost in time to teenagerish and text-modern. I understand the whole growing up like the Mafia but I think his tone should be a little more stable unless there is a real explanation behind it.

The whole book is a little like that. The one transition, in which Cassel figures out what his brothers have done and that he's another super-speshul, was far too confusing. When I had to read it twice to understand where the connection between the two had come from, I knew there was something up with that. It happened twice again, right after Lila was turned back and the whole confrontation scene between Zacharov, "Grandad", Anton, Barron and Cassel. Maybe Black should get someone to look over her manuscripts a little more closely. People think that writing in first person is the easiest way to write but in reality it is the hardest, especially when you're writing in the present tense. Some things that make sense to you, might not make sense at all to the reader.

I don't know if it was my eBook that was acting weird but there were also these random breaks in the paragraphs that made me do a double take. If it wasn't a mistake done in part of by the transfer, it is incredibly jarring. At the end of the book, there's another paragraph break that was entirely unnecessary and would have done the book a lot more service by melding them together. The book I reviewed the other day, Between Here and Forever did the past thing much more smoothly, sometimes in shorter chapters or just suffusing into the overall narrative. It would have benefited to have done the same.

I did not like the ending. I thought that it was a complete backward step into how Black had set up Lila's character. In fact, it felt a little bit like she had just thrown that in there to make a series. I mean, come on, maybe some people and publishers would have been disappointed that it wouldn't continue but I frankly would have thought it to be a much more thought-provoking book if it had ended with Cassel wondering if Lila would ever get over him or the time she had spent as a cat. (Unless of course there are some finer points which I have missed beforehand that set up the continuation of the novel, in that case, I apologize for the rant - the series thing is becoming a cliche in itself.)

The world building, on the other hand, is an amazing, brilliant piece to this story. I honestly applaud Black for the amount of creativity it took to create this alternate universe. The magical aspects of it, including the reactions of the "normal" society, strongly reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones's dimensions. However, most of this world was told, through the paragraph breaks that I mentioned before, which made from a much less compelling read. Everything from the history to the consequences to the types of magic were told inn a heavy handed way that irked me a little every time I read them.

Other than that the themes in the book were done well. The honesty and trust issues Cassel was having is a problem lots of teens suffer from and the fact that his stemmed from more of a lack of responsible parental figures over the more important years of his life is exactly the kind of thing that some teens can relate to. Everyone hates the thought of turning into their parent when they were a teen. I loved the fact that the protagonist wasn't sure if Lila was crazy or not and the same with his mother. It was a little bit of perspective that was better done especially at the end of the book (despite the ending).

All in all=.

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