Book Review: White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black

6087756Title: White Cat  (Curse Workers, #1)
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Young Adult, Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
How I got it: Lent by a friend
Click here to buy this book from Amazon

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 criminals. Many become mobsters and con artists. But not Cassel. He hasn’t got magic, 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.

Cassel has carefully built up a facade of normalcy, blending into the crowd. But his facade starts to crumble when he finds himself 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. As Cassel begins to suspect he’s part of a huge con game, he must unravel his past and his memories. To find out the truth, Cassel will have to out-con the conmen.

This book has been on my TBR list since early this year and I decided to finally crack it open for my Tackle Your TBR Pile Read-a-thon. Lots of people have been going on and on about how great this book is and the series as a whole. In fact, many of my trusted book bloggers seem to like White Cat a lot, but after reading it I honestly don’t see what all the hype is about.

Conceptually, White Cat was very promising. ‘Curse Worker’ sounds so sinister and magical at the same time and truthfully, I think that we can never have enough books about magic so I welcomed the concept with open arms. But I guess when it comes to building the principles around the concept itself Holly Black falls short. I personally think it’s because of the lack of details and I for one am hungry about the good nitty-gritty. The idea of curse working was very casually served to the readers, the first few chapters were smattered with vague details about the crime families and the government’s stand on ‘workers’ and ‘working’ but the execution itself of this technique was average at best. I’ve read novels before that doesn’t necessarily give detailed lists, graphs, or lengthy explanations about the concepts/ideas involved but dishes them out slowly throughout the story, and they worked fine for me, better actually since the author challenges the reader to read between the lines and figure out all things unsaid, and I live for those moments, trust me. But this one was just confusing and that in itself is a huge buzzkill.  It felt suspiciously like the author obscuring the obvious behind a curtain of opaque vagueness just to make it feel like there’s something mysterious about the whole thing when in truth, there’s really not.

When it comes to the characters, I don’t really have much to say except that I was thoroughly bored. Cassel’s voice was distinctly male, yes, but there was nothing special about him really. In fact, I might have to say that he’s a bit overdramatic at times even considering the circumstances. Lila was projected as an interesting character because that’s how Cassel feels about her, but I am not enchanted by her at all. She did nothing surprising in my opinion and in fact, she ended up being too predictable. Plus, there’s zero chemistry between her and Cassel; I’d probably rather ship him with Daneca. The most interesting characters in this book for me were Maura and Granddad, Maura because in my mind’s eye she looks like the woman who played Jack Nicholson’s wife in The Shining, and Granddad because he reminds me a liiitttle bit of Uncle Eddie from Heist Society. The villains at least, were well crafted. I like the fact that Philip and Barron were conning their own brother and Anton was believably psychotic. I expected a whole lot from Zacharov than what I got, though. I mean, isn’t he supposed to be head of a crime family? His character felt a little too soft for my liking. That was one of the big disappointments I got out of this book.

Plotwise, it was kind of predictable and nothing happened that wasn’t already expected. I immediately knew who the White Cat was and I guessed rather early that Cassel was really a worker and what kind of work he can do. About the only thing I didn’t guess was what Cassel’s mom would do in the end, and honestly? Bad parenting. The mafia-ish vibe wasn’t used to it’s full potential and the cons aren’t nearly as impressive as the narrative makes it seem. I liked the concept of the blowback, though. Lots of magic books tell us about limitless power with very slight physical consequences, but in Cassel’s world, you get your karma immediately, and light would be the last word to describe it. The blowback definitely made things more interesting and it set even Cassel and his unusual abilities on the same ground with other workers because it’s a mutual vulnerability they all share.

Despite the myriad of shortcomings I listed, White Cat was still an enjoyable read. Some parts were slow but most were action-packed and I can’t help but notice that this was the case in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown as well. Holly Black thrives when she’s world-building and writing the ass-kicking scenes and for the most part it makes up for her less-than-stellar skill in plot-weaving and characterization. I’m a bit disappointed though that White Cat was not as good as I thought it would be, but I have to admit that it wasn’t half bad either. I most probably won’t read the other books in the series, but I would still recommend it to everyone who loves urban fantasy and who enjoys reading in the male character’s POV. Three coconuts!


This is the 7th book that I finished for my Tackle Your TBR Pile Read-a-thon.

Have you read this book yet? What did you think of it? Leave me links and comments so we can talk! Happy reading! x



10 thoughts on “Book Review: White Cat (Curse Workers #1) by Holly Black

  1. Yasmine L. says:

    I read this one a long time ago and it was really just me giving Holly Black a second chance (I read Tithe, I think?). I finally decided that she just isn’t for me. Her concepts and world building are interesting and usually have a lot of potential, but her characters and plot are terrible. I disliked White Cat especially because the idea was so cool but fell so flat and far from what it could have been. It made me angry, tbh. The characters were really boring (and just badly written) and the plot was ridiculous. The cat thing was incredibly dumb. I guess I’m a lot harsher than you, since I only finished reading it because I loved the idea and just hoped it would get better. It didn’t. To be honest, though, I think it should have just been handed off to another writer to see if they could make something decent out of the curse worker idea because I loved it so much. I really don’t know what all the hype about Holly Black is – her best work was the Spiderwick series and her short story in Geektastic (which was wonderful).

    • thecrazybookworm says:

      I really had high hopes for White Cat. The first Holly Black book I’ve read was The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and wow, what a great title, right? The idea was superb as well, but the execution failed. I thought White Cat would be different because my trusted book bloggers were basically singing the book praises, but when I read it, it was messy and boring and just… ugh. Reading it felt like a chore and all the while I wanted it so bad to surprise me but it didn’t. I’m glad you feel the same way because I was starting to think I’m some kind of martian for not liking a book everybody seems to love.

      • Yasmine L. says:

        Yeah, me too! Everyone loves Holly Black, but to be honest I just don’t understand why. I prefer Cassandra Clare’s good characters but cliched world/plot over potentially good world building and bad execution/characters. Those two should write a book together.

      • thecrazybookworm says:

        I gave up on Cassie Clare a long time ago. I used to love her books but I found out about her bullying history and it kinda put me off. But she can write, definitely, and yes, her characters and Holly Black’s world building abilities would be perfect. Hopefully they do that, because I might just read it.

      • Yasmine L. says:

        Are you referring to the fanfiction/plagiarism issues? I don’t know anything about bullying history, other than maybe that one tumblr blog that was set up as a Cassie Clare hate blog that even found out her real name. She went off the internet for a while after that.

      • thecrazybookworm says:

        Ah no, the fanfic plagiarism I knew for a while now, I even read all of The Draco Trilogy. But the bullying I found out just 4 months ago. It’s not about the tumblr blogs either, but it was a part of it. Basically it went waaay back to Cassie’s Harry Potter fandom days.

        Here are some links if you want more details:

      • Yasmine L. says:

        Oh wow, I didn’t know some of that stuff…:/ Some of the blogs that were taken down were legitimate, though. They were posting her real name and family and stuff, even John Green called people out on that. But yeah. I like her books, and I like her writing but it’s just like Orson Scott Card, I guess. Appreciate the art, not the artist…

      • thecrazybookworm says:

        True. I was really sad when I found out about the bullying stuff because I was such a fan of everything she wrote, and I especially loved Magnus Bane. I guess I’ll read her again someday when I get over myself ^_^ Her talent is unmistakable but I’m taking a break from her for a while.

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