Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Review: White Cat by Holly Black AND Red Glove (#1 & #2 Curseworkers series)

Title: White Cat (curseworkers #1) and Red Glove (#2)
Author: Holly Black
Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy
Published: 2010, 2011

Holly Black wrote my favorite story in the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology about an Angelina-like character who adopts a brood of zom-nom children and her babysitter lives to tell. White Cat is the first book in her YA Curseworkers series. I listened to the audiobook version of both stories narrated by Jesse Eisenberg, the Academy Award-nominated actor of The Social Network and more importantly, a nerd-turned-badass in Zombieland. Jesse is a perfect match to read for the character and an example of how a narrator can an enhance a story.

In White Cat, Cassel is a seemingly normal kid with a weird name among a family of "workers," which is slang for folks who have mystical abilities to influence people. His grandfather is a deathworker (bad) while others work in luck, dreams or even emotions. Naturally, as one would expect, these workers are exploited by crime families. Cassel's mother is in jail for work she's done manipulating and conning using her curse-magic. His older brothers are emotionally distant and his father is out of the picture. Cassel's no saint though, he has his own con game going at the co-ed boarding school he attends. He's essentially a bookie, taking bets on everything, exploiting the rich kids to take care of himself.

After a few incidents of embarrassing sleepwalking get Cassel kicked-out of school, he pieces together that his strange dreams involving a white cat may hold clues to the murder of his friend Lila 3 years earlier. Cassel always believed he killed Lila, because he was told he had, although he doesn't remember doing it. He has memories of standing over her dead body, but of nothing else.

It's a strange and utterly convincing world to picture life as we know it with an undercurrent of mystical abilities. This feels like more of a contemporary story with elements of fantasy. It's gritty and a bit dark but also fun.

I can't say too much about Red Glove without giving away what happens in the first book. Basically, the next story dives deeper into the mobster families who control the workers in Cassel's life, and Lila's connections with that family. Cassel finds himself recruited by a crime boss at the same time the FBI wants him to assist with an investigation because of the connections he has with his own family of workers.

At school, which Cassel manages to re-enroll in after being kicked out, the Hex club is getting some heat from fellow students for supporting worker rights (it's a political issue and legislation is suggested to require all workers to register with the government). Non-worker students fear those who have mystical abilities, and they are turning on each other. Cassel must decide who he can trust, at school and in his family, and whether there is any "right" option in his life.

I really enjoyed both books. The take on mystical abilities feels realistic rather than a worldview you have to put aside doubts to buy into. Great characters and exciting storytelling. If you like dark humor and inventive urban fantasy, I highly recommend the series.


  1. I don't read much urban fantasy, but this does sound intriguing. I like that the mystical parts feel real enough, and sign me up for dark humor.

  2. Yeah, it's not fantasy with other bengs, and the powers are less mystical sounding and more like talents. The writing is strong which helps me to focus on the story.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.