I know I’m a little late to the party with this one, but I’ve only just got around to reading this brilliant debut YA fantasy. Half Bad by Sally Green was published (to much excitement) in March 2014, and after searching on Amazon to get the photo, I’ve realised the second one came out this March so I’ll be ordering that shortly!
‘He’s half White Witch, half Black Witch.
His mother was a healer, his father is a killer.
He’s been kept in a cage since he was fourteen.
But if White Witches are good and Black Witches are evil, what happens if you are both?’
I’ll admit I found this hard at first to get into but bear with me because I was completely absorbed by the end. I loved the scenes at the very start with Nathan in the cage, trying to escape. He was youthful and strong, pretty fanciable and you were automatically on his side. We wanted to know what he was, why he was in the cage, who this mystery woman is. When we went back to his young childhood, I felt myself falling away from the story a little. The chapters were quite stilted, the language quite blunt and brief which did express the harshness of his childhood but made it a little difficult to really get into. Having finished the book, I know that it was all part of developing Nathan’s character, showing you his early life and his treatment and I’m incredibly glad I picked it back up.
We race through his adolescent years and I think it’s as his assessments start and the action beings that it really gets you hooked. In places it reminded me of other fantasy I’ve read, hints of Twilight, flashes of Harry Potter (Half-Blood/Half-Code), Divergent/Hunger Games tropes and Jenny Nimmo’s series (which is amazing by the way if you haven’t read it), but Half Bad is unique enough for me to forget those influences. You can’t judge a book from the myths it draws on; J K Rowling’s books are full of Roman and Greek mythology and even Tolkien stole a bit of his from ancient history and they are still both brilliant. Half Bad is dark, and gritty and truly painful at times and there are so many important issues rising from it such as racism and prejudice, misunderstanding of those who are different and the terrible, panicked and controlling way that the Council handle it. Nathan’s strength and intelligence is so admirable throughout and it’s amazing he has any goodness left after the way he is treated. I’m so interested by the presentation of him being illiterate, showing his knowledge and intelligence in other ways which I’ve so rarely seen in YA fiction. His family are wonderful, I love Arran (though he is frustratingly wet at points) and his Grandmother’s quiet but fierce protection of him is incredibly endearing. Jessica is brilliantly evil too.
Sally Green presents Nathan in an incredible light as you debate whether he really is good or evil. You become part of this world where you judge everyone around you and suspect everyone he meets and you writhe in pain like he does and get angry when he is mistreated. But the subtle moments where you’re reminded of his dark side, his traits that come from his evil father make you take a step back and wonder if he is all ‘good’. Most importantly, it all feels believable. I blow hot and cold with fantasy books, finding many far too unrealistic. With Harry Potter, I can very easily argue about Ministry of Magic laws and frequently shout ’10 points to Gryffindor’ to family members, friends, random people in the street… I do all that despite it all being completely unreal. Any fantasy book in which I can forget that it’s actually all make-believe is a great one for me. If you can forget that there’s no such thing as witches and gifts and accept them as fact, then the author has done their job and Sally Green certainly has here.
The pace picks up as he moves out on his own, approaching his seventeenth birthday when he’ll find out his Gift and hunting for his father – I loved finding out each character’s special talent and Sally is brilliant at making you wait as you race to find out what Nathan’s is and whether he will meet his father, Marcus. It’s adventurous, thrilling and suspenseful as you follow Nathan’s various stops on his journey. It feels like a mini quest, which is equally archaic and thrilling. It feels like an old-school fantasy with witches, gifts and ‘good vs. evil’ but with modern characters, writing and problems which is a lethal combination.
By the end, you’re questioning all of Nathan’s friends, wondering who is ‘bad’ and who is ‘good’ and if it really can be that polemic. The final pages leave you dying for more, so I’m so happy I can move straight onto the sequel (the one advantage of waiting so long to read it I suppose).