We are, largely, who we remember ourselves to be. That’s why habits are so hard to break. If we know ourselves to be liars, we expect not to tell the truth. If we think of ourselves as honest, we try harder. [loc. 3621]
Cassel Sharp is seventeen, and it's three years since he killed the girl he loved.
He's the outsider in his family, the rest of whom are curse-workers: his older brother Barron manipulates luck, while the middle brother Philip can turn someone's body against them, and their mother -- currently in jail for fraud -- performs emotional workings. Cassel's grandfather has a more fearsome gift: he's a death-worker, murdering people with magic. Every working has a price: a worker, or magic user, who works someone to amend their memories will lose a memory of their own, and Cassel's grandfather has blackened stubs where some of his fingers used to be.
White Cat, the first in a trilogy, opens with Cassel waking up mid-nightmare to find himself teetering on the roof of his college dorm. Was he sleepwalking, or has he been 'worked'? The school, quite sensibly, want him to be someone else's problem, so they pack him off to his grandfather.
Cassel is not wholly without resources. He deputises his roommate Sam to take over the betting pool he runs (his fellow students will bet on anything and everything, including the eventual fate of a mouse in the common room) and fakes a psychologist's letter for the school. Mundanities taken care of, he can turn his attention to the real issue: why he's sleepwalking, losing his memories and dreaming of a white cat.
I'd expected -- not sure why -- something considerably less gritty than the novel I actually read, and I was very happy to have my preconceptions proved wrong. Cassel is not always a likeable protagonist but he has wit and courage, and is surprisingly vulnerable behind his tough-guy facade. That facade is a survival mechanism, not just teen machismo. The world in which he lives is one where magic is a criminal activity (at least in the US): hence, it's run by crime families, which makes it a dangerous game and a treacherous career. Some of Cassel's friends -- who aren't workers -- are campaigning for worker rights and better legislation. But that's probably not going to help Cassel, who finds himself caught up in the harsh realities of illegal magic.
White Cat is first in a trilogy: I ordered the other two as soon as I'd finished the first.