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White Cat: The Curse Workers    by Holly Black order for
White Cat
by Holly Black
Order:  USA  Can
Margaret K. McElderry, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Seventeen-year-old Cassel Sharpe is the only untalented member of a family of curse workers in a world where using those abilities (to do things like influence other people's emotions, change their luck, break their bones, or edit their memory) is against the law.

Cassel's father is dead (in a car accident), his consummate con artist of a mother is in jail (for controlling a millionaire mark's feelings for her) and his grandfather's blackened stubs (where fingers used to be) are evidence of his career as a death worker. Cassel himself has a dark secret, one that haunts and isolates him. He remembers standing over the body of his best friend Lila, covered in blood and gleeful, three years before. His brothers Philip and Barron cleaned up the scene and disposed of the corpse to protect him, as Lila's father heads the powerful Zacharov crime family (Philip works for Zacharov's nephew Anton).

As White Cat opens, Cassel awakens on the roof of his dorm (with no memory of how he got there), after an apparent sleepwalking episode. As a result, he's suspended from school, and forced to leave his 'tiny criminal empire' (a betting pool) in the capable hands of his 'hard-core science geek' roommate, Sam Yu. Cassel ends up staying with his Grandad at their old home, helping to clean it out in preparation for his mom's release from jail. The house is surrounded by feral cats, one of them white. Cassel dreams of a white cat with Lila's eyes demanding his help as her due.

Gradually Cassel discovers that people - and the past - are not at all what he has believed them to be. Individuals close to him have been using him for their own ends - and expect to continue to do so. Sam's friend Daneca's family advocates to make curse working legal and so cut down the power of the big crime families. Cassel figures out what has been going on and, with Sam's and Daneca's help, plans his own con - to try to set things right again. Will he survive it? If he does, it's clear his life will never be the same again.

White Cat is a brilliant start to a new series I am keen to follow. This first episode of The Curse Workers ends with major revelations, with a new key player (Cassel's meddling mom) in the cast, and with a big new problem for its budding criminal of an antihero. I predict huge success for this outstanding series, which adult fantasy fans will enjoy just as much as teens.

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