Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Length: 76,000 words, 310 pages
Read: March 12, 2011
Summary: Well written, fun, but a little contrived.
This is yet another foray into the world of paranormal YA (I am, after all, doing research for my own writing). Holly Black is a but best selling YA and MG author. This book, unusually, has a male protagonist, and he’s part of a family of “curse workers,” although he himself doesn’t do any magic. He lives in an alternative reality where a small minority of people are able to “lay on hands” in a bad way and curse people. They are known to society, it’s even illegal, and formed into criminal gangs in the 1930s just like the Mafia.
The premise is decent, although I’m not a fan versions of our reality with outed paranormal groups. I didn’t really buy the changes at a social level. The whole existance of this kind of power in volume would throw everything off, and here the only real social change is that everyone wears gloves (because it’s through bare skin that the magic works). We are reminded often of the glove factor.
The writing is very solid and straightforward, in first person present. So straightforward it took me awhile to even notice the tense. Or maybe writing it myself is acclimating me to it. The protagonist is likable and felt fairly real, although maybe not all of his decisions did. And I didn’t really feel the proper weight of his emotions. Big things happen, but without big feelings. By page three or thereabouts we discover he murdered his girlfriend. We’re supposed to still like him. And we do, but mostly because it’s totally obvious that he didn’t REALLY murder her, he only thinks he did. Oh and we quickly hear about the one flavor of curse worker that’s REALLY rare. And guess who’s from a magical family and doesn’t have any power…
But I enjoyed the book — quite a bit — I read it in half a day after all. Another book I attempted to read that same morning was so execrable that I only made it to fifty pages, so this was a vast improvement.
A couple other beefs. At times the writing was so lean that I felt like I missed something in the action and had to page back to find it — but it wasn’t even there. Now, it was then obvious moving forward what had happened, it just seemed that the attempt at leanness and/or agressive editing had taken the edge off the clarity. Then as we moved into the second half we hit the “after the big reveal” syndrome which many books with reveals often suffer from. I’ve mentioned this before (like HERE or HERE), but basically this is where after the big shocker no one really seems to act with appropriate emotional gravitas. I’m used to it, and it’s a tough problem to solve, so I moved on to the ending.
Which was the weakest part. Everything juggled into place such that the people were served the plot rather than their character. The plot wasn’t bad, it’s just that I didn’t really see some of the characters acting like they did.
Overall, the story was fast and fun. As I said Ms Black is a skilled writer, and the prose zipped along, with nice quick descriptions, and she isn’t afraid to be a bit dark or sexy (considering it’s YA). The gratuitous twist on the last two pages bugged me, but I ordered the sequel (which the Twitter/FB buzz says is very good) and another of the author’s books.
How different these neat little package YA books are from a meaty tome like The Wise Man’s Fear (which I finished the same day). There are subplots in that book about the size of this entire story.
For a review of Holly Black’s first novel, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, click here.
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