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Literature / The Curse Workers
aka: White Cat

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"No-one at home is ever going to forget that Cassel is a killer. No-one at home is ever going to forget that he isn’t a magic worker. And now he is being haunted by a white cat."

A series of YA novels by Holly Black. It includes White Catnote , Red Glove and Black Heart. The audio book of White Cat is read by Jesse Eisenberg.

This series contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents - Shandra Sharpe.
  • Aloof Big Brother - To some extent, Cassel sees Phillip as this.
  • Amateur Sleuth - Cassel. Subverted in that he is directly involved in most of the crimes himself.
  • Ambiguously Brown - Cassel and his family. Even they don't know what ethnicity they are.
  • Animal Motifs - Well, yeah.
  • Asshole Victim - Many. Cassel's forgotten assassination targets, the woman he frames for Phillip's murder, Phillip himself.
  • Awesome Mc Coolname - Cassel and Barron, in comparison with their older brother Phillip. Justified in that their father named Phillip, while their mom had creative control of the others.
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  • Bad Ass Family - Cassel's, naturally.
  • Bad Dreams - about killing Lila haunt Cassel through half the first book untill he discovers that he didn't kill her.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People - Unfortunately assumed by portions of the general public about workers. They're right, to some extent.
  • Baleful Polymorph - Lila.
  • Ban on Magic - Magic has been illegal in the US since the 1930s. As with Prohibition, this lead to the rise of criminal syndicates built around an underground trade in magical services and the use of magic to aid in various criminal enterprises.
  • Being Evil Sucks - Growing up in the mob, being a con artist and being a secret assassin have led to Cassel being ridden with self-loathing and paranoia.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family - Cassel's family well and truly qualifies. So does Lila's.
  • Black and Gray Morality - Pretty much all the characters commit crimes at one point or another.
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  • Black Sheep - Cassel sees himself as this.
  • Blessed with Suck - All workers have blowback to varying extents, some of which can be crippling or even fatal. Having powers is as dangerous to the owner as it is to everyone else.
  • Boarding School - Cassel attends one.
  • Cast from Hit Points - Death work blowback withers a part of the worker's own body; physical work blowback makes the worker feel weak and sick.
  • Childhood Friends - Cassel and Lila.
  • Con Man - Cassel is proud of his skill as such.
  • Conspicuous Gloves: As the powers can only have an effect through skin-to-skin contact, everyone in this world wears gloves.
  • Consummate Liar - Barron. For good reason.
  • Daddy's Little Villain - Lila to her father, depending on how you view their family.
  • Deadpan Snarker - Cassel, particularly towards authority figures.
  • Demoted Memories - In Red Glove, Cassel realizes that something he remembers as a scene from a movie is an actual memory that Barron tampered with.
  • Differently Powered Individual: People with magical powers are commonly called "curse workers" or simply "workers"; the Technobabble term is "hyperbathygammic" or "HBG". "Heebiejeebies" is a somewhat derogatory term derived from the latter. Archaic terms include "theurgists" and "dab hands".
  • Dysfunction Junction - Cassel's family, due to both their criminal lifestyle and the effects of blowback.
    • Also Phillip's family.
  • Emotion Control - Emotion working.
  • Empathic Healer - Physical workers can heal injuries and cure or mitigate diseases, but the blowback makes them weak and sick.
  • Equivalent Exchange - Blowback works like this. The more you use your power, the more you're affected in the same area. For example, a luck worker that constantly decreases the luck of others will end up unlucky themselves.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids - Cassel's grandfather laments not having kept his daughter out of the mob. By contrast, said daughter actively worked (in every relevant sense of the word) to initiate her own sons into the life.
  • The Family That Slays Together - Cassel's brothers seem to feel this way.
  • Fantastic Racism: The general public fears workers due to their power and the strong connection between magic and organized crime, to the point that everyone takes it as a given that the mandatory hyperbathygammic testing law, if passed, would lead to workers being denied jobs and housing.
  • For Your Own Good - Everyone who was involved in hiding Cassel's power and assassination history from him insists that they did it to protect him.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral" - In Red Glove.
  • Gambit Pileup - The end of White Cat.
  • Grumpy Old Man - Cassel's grandfather, although he also qualifies at the Cool Old Guy.
  • Hidden Wire - Cassel at the end of Red Glove.
  • Incurable Cough of Death - Agent Yulikova suffers from it due to heavy use of her physical working power.
  • It Runs in the Family - Working, although it does seem to sometimes occur out of the blue.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler - If you happen to read the dust-jacket to Red Glove before White Cat you're treated to the entire plot of the first book.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia - Memory workers can inflict this.
  • Lethal Harmless Powers - Dream working sounds perfectly benign, but it can easily be used to cause someone to sleepwalk off a roof.
  • Logical Weakness - Blowback is directly related to the type of power that causes it.
  • Mafia Princess - Lila.
  • Magic Is Evil - According to some politicians and some members of the general public.
  • Manchurian Agent - White Cat tells the story of Cassel's figuring out that he is a variation on this.
  • Memory-Wiping Crew - Barron is one. He isn't happy about it.
  • Missing Mom - Subverted. Cassel's mom is absent for most of White Cat, due to being in prison. It doesn't seem to change her relationship with her children and she is out of prison at the end of White Cat and in Red Glove.
  • Motive Rant - Barron has a small one near the end of White Cat.
  • My Beloved Smother - Shandra Sharpe.
  • Nightmare of Normality: The big twist of White Cat is that Cassel isn't the token muggle of the family after all: he's actually a transformation worker, and has been brainwashed by his brothers into forgetting his powers - except on occasions when they need an assassin who can effectively kill people without leaving any kind of evidence. As such, reclaiming his powers and saving one of his past victims forms a major part of the story from then on.
  • Oblivious Younger Sibling - Cassel, due to Barron editing his memory.
  • Our Nudity Is Different - In the US, at least, the custom of wearing gloves to prevent surreptitious magic has been in place for so long that bare hands have become mysterious and titillating.
  • The Perfect Crime - Attempted by Barron, Phillip and Cassel himself in the backstory. For the most part, it works.
  • Power at a Price - Curse work has an equivalent "blowback."
  • Power Limiter - Magic can only be used via skin to skin contact with the magic users hand and another person. Naturally everyone wears gloves to safeguard against this.
  • Rule of Seven - Seven types of magic.
  • Siblings in Crime - Despite Cassel not being aware of it.
  • Save the Villain - Cassel to Barron and to some extent Phillip at the end of White Cat.
    • And for Barron again at the end of Red Glove, considering he could have left him to the police.
  • Soapbox Sadie - Daneca Wasserman, who proudly displays buttons expressing her feelings on various causes on her bag, leads the Wallingford branch of a worker rights youth group, and scolds Cassel for his indifference to politics.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome - Phillip at the start of Red Glove.
  • Super Registration Act: Detractors of the mandatory hyperbathygammic testing proposition see it as a prelude to this.
  • Sympathetic Murderer - Ultimately, Cassel.
  • Thicker Than Water - Despite everything, Cassel still feels this way about his family.
  • Touch of Death - Death working.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee - At the ends of White Cat and Red Glove.
  • Urban Fantasy - The series. Magic is well and truly public knowledge.
  • Violin Scam - Cassel needs to get a cat out of a shelter. He's under 18 and can't just adopt it, so his friend comes into the shelter claiming her expensive white cat is lost and offering a huge reward. Cassel then goes in and claims he has the missing cat, but will need a white cat for his little sister as a replacement. The shelter worker, thinking of the huge reward, is willing to skip the background check and give Cassel the cat, expecting Cassel to return later with the "missing" cat.
  • Winds of Destiny, Change - Luck working.
  • You Could Have Used Your Powers for Good - Nipped in the bud, as working is illegal despite the potential benefits of things like luck work.

Alternative Title(s): White Cat


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