Half Bad by Sally Green
This is the latest teen crossover fantasy hit that everyone’s reading, The Hunger Games is so last year dahling! At first I was resistant, but when it was picked for our book group choice, I grasped the mettle and am really glad I did read it.
If you read the blurb which mentions witches a lot and being kept in a cage – it immediately makes you think of Harry Potter and the broom cupboard under the stairs. There are some superficial similarities – The Ministry of Magic’s less benign aspects resemble Green’s Council of Witches, the Death-Eaters are certainly similar in some respects to the black witches here, but that’s as far as it goes. Potter may have been one inspiration, but in fact, Half Bad owes a lot more to Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy in style, for it is a gritty and violent adventure too, although set firmly in our world rather than a frontier planet. It starts in an interesting way. A few pages in and we’re introduced to Nathan’s typical day:
Waking up to sky and air is OK. Waking up to the cage and the shackles is what it is. You can’t let the cage get to you. The shackles rub but healing is quick and easy, so what’s to mind? …
You’ve got to have a plan, though, and the best idea is to have it all worked out the night before so you can slip straight into it without a thought. Mostly the plan is to do what you’re told, but not every day, and not today.
In Nathan’s England, witches live amongst the normal folk, the ‘fain’, and the vast majority are white. Nathan’s mother was a white witch, his brother and sister too will become white witches when they reach seventeen. Nathan is different, his father was a black witch – he’s half and half by birth, and thus of special interest to the Council of Witches, who control all the white witches. Whilst growing up he will be tested regularly, to see if he’s showing black witch tendencies. Black witches are murderous loners, who’d as soon dispatch their own kind as their enemies, the whites. The Council is totally intolerant of black witches, and would like to destroy them all.
We periodically flash back to hear more of Nathan’s childhood, and find out how he came to live as a prisoner in a cage out in the wilds. Nathan is desperate to escape. His seventeenth birthday approaches – he needs to be given three gifts and blood from an ancestor. His mother died years ago, his grandmother is under the Council’s controls – he’s never met his father. He’ll die without the blood, he needs to escape and find Marcus.
That’s all I shall tell you, as there is a whole raft of adventure coming for young Nathan and it’s thrilling stuff. There are twists and turns and some shocking scenes and reveations along the way, not least finding out how bad the white witches really are, which I’m sure you will have surmised already.
Interestingly, the book is written totally in the present tense, but you can distinguish between the past and the present by the past being written in the second person, and the present in the first. This combination makes the narrative very immediate and intense. You’re instantly on Nathan’s side – for a lad who could turn out to be the next Voldemort so to speak, he appears to be a reliable narrator.
It will be interesting to see what our book group think, but I really enjoyed this novel. It was pacy, easy to read, and very dark. Roll on the sequel. (Surely you didn’t believe this would be a standalone volume!) (9/10)
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below…
Sally Green, Half Bad, Penguin paperback, March 2014, 400 pages.