I’d heard great things about Holly Black – and after initially taking me a couple of chapters to get into, White Cat was a great introduction to her writing. The concepts reminded me that I’ve been reading a lot of ‘typical’ YA Fantasy, and while I love a well-written typical fantasy, White Cat felt like the breath of fresh air I hadn’t realised I’d been missing!

Cassel is an antihero. In a broad sense, the magic of the world is feared and hidden, yet in Cassel’s immediate circle, being a curse workers means inclusion, power and acceptance. His whole life he’s felt on the outer with his family, particularly his brothers, because he wasn’t born a worker. Yet he doesn’t quite fit in with his school friends either, and constantly tries to act like the person he thinks he’s supposed to be. Although the predictable plot would take Cassel from powerless to top of the heap, Black writes in a way that doesn’t feel obvious or predictable. The first person narrative allows for the reader to learn about Cassel’s past (as well as his present and immediate future) while he discovers it himself.

The portrayal of magic as hand to skin contact is brilliantly done, and the different types of curse workers ingenious. If there are books that use similar concepts, I certainly haven’t read them. Blacks’ characters demonstrate real humanity – and I feel like she explores the darker side of man’s nature in a deep and reflective way. There are seemingly no stereotypical ‘good guys’, as even Cassel himself is a criminal by birth and nature.

Lila’s character stunned me at first, as I realised that I expected her to be passive and feminine. She is neither of these things. Yes, she wants to win her father’s approval, but her nature allows her to be brutal and cruel in a way that negates any feelings of pity the reader may have towards her. Once I got over my shock at this female representation, I realised how narrow many feminine moulds can be.

Ultimately, White Cat presents a refreshingly dark and dystopial world that isn’t so far from our own. The ending sets the sequel up nicely, without feeling like the story had no conclusion. I look forward to reading book #2!