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By Singing Light

Pretty much everything here originally appeared at my actual blog: By Singing Light. I particularly focus on upper middle-grade and young adult books. I also enjoy adult genre books, especially speculative fiction.

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White Cat - Holly Black by Holly Black

Opening line--"I wake up barefoot, standing on cold slate tiles."

Okay, I really loved this book. It wasn't one of the pivotal reading experiences of my life, but it was smart, fun, and since I finished I've been thinking about it a lot, drawing comparisons to other books and generally marvelling at its awesomeness.

So here's the premise: In a world where working curses, or any sort of magic (but that seems synonymous with curses) is illegal, all the curse-workers have ended up in the hands of one of the big families. Yes. Like mob families. Cassel is the only non-worker in a family of workers. He's also the youngest* of three brothers. His father is dead; his mother is in jail; his grandfather is crazier than ever. And Cassel just wants a normal life attending a prestigious boarding school. Unfortunately, he has secrets in his past, and when he wakes up on the roof of his dorm after sleepwalking, his life changes.

Holly Black took the "White Cat" fairy tale and adapted it in really interesting ways. Despite the title I didn't make the connection until one particular point, at which I set down the book for a second and went, "OH! Now I get what she's doing!" So thumbs up for a very unique re-telling. If you know the story, that's fine. If not, I'd suggest looking it up AFTER you finish the book, because it will spoil one of the big secrets.

I did call most of the twists and turns, but I wasn't particularly bothered by this for some reason. I think it's because Cassel's voice and story were engaging enough to keep me from feeling annoyed. And besides that, there were some very strong reasons that he couldn't see what everyone else could. It wasn't that he was being dumb, it was that he was being manipulated.

I loved that all of the characters were so ambiguous. I love ambiguous characters, as long as they settle down into some sort of sense by the end of the book (or at least by the end of the series). If they don't, I'm just annoyed. Cassel was great, as was his grandfather. And I loved Sam! Sam is Cassel's roommate and is awesome. He drives a biodiesel hearse. 'Nuff said.

It did cut off a bit abruptly, which left me saying, "There had BETTER be a sequel." And there is, coming out next year.

I have all sorts of other thoughts, but they're a bit more spoilery.

Book source: public library
Book information: Margaret McElderry Books, 2010

* I didn't think about this at the time, but WOW! Holly Black does that youngest-son fairy tale trope really nicely. I didn't even notice it while reading, but it definitely adds another level of complexity to the story.


Such a fantastic book! I loved the very subtle weaving in of the eponymous fairy tale (and yes, I did just want to use that word). I loved the mystery of Cassel’s past. I loved the world. I loved Grandpa and Sam. While I did call most of the twists, I still found myself engaged. Fortunately, it’s just the first in a series. [2010 in books]