Written by: Sally Green
Published by: Viking Juvenile
Release date: March 4th 2014
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal
Source: Penguin's FirstToRead.com
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads
In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?
In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.
“There is nothing either good or bad,
but thinking makes it so.”
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be intense. From the very first page, I was drawn in by the writing, the emotions, the voice, and the struggles of the main character. Nathan has grown up an outcast. In a world where the lines between Black Witches and White Witches have been clearly drawn, Nathan is unique, and alone. His mother was Cora, a White Witch; his father is Marcus, a Black Witch — and the most sought-after criminal in the magical community.
I’ve never met my father…
But I know that my eyes are his eyes.
– Half Bad, eARC, pg 29
So, the driving force of this book is Nathan himself, and the struggles he faces as a Half Black / Half White Witch. But the main plot is Nathan’s “quest” to find someone who will give him three gifts on his 16th birthday — the necessary ceremony to make sure he officially becomes a Witch. If this doesn’t happen, he’ll most likely die. Of course, almost no one wants Nathan to succeed, since they’re all convinced (despite lack of evidence) that he’ll turn out to be as bad as his father.
The only witches who govern the community are the White Witches, as the Black Witches are all in hiding or living on their own; and most of this community is against Nathan. They think his status as a Half Code (half Black Witch) means that he will end up taking after his father and turning evil. Nathan is isolated from and attacked by almost the entire White Witch community, despite growing up in a loving (well, mostly loving) family who has complete (well, mostly complete) faith in him to be a good person, not defined by the evil of his father.
Nathan completely carried this book, for me. There are lots of characters on the periphery, but Nathan’s suffocating isolation in this world of White Witches is probably the most compelling thing about Half Bad. Nathan grows up in the shadow of his father, hated and feared because of his father’s reputation as a horrible Black Witch. Despite growing up in the same loving household as his amazing siblings Arran and Deborah (I can’t even talk about the awful sister Jennifer – she’s horrible), he is never viewed as anything more than the product of a Black Witch – never half good, but always half bad.
“Gran says I’m a White Witch. She says I’m half White.”
“You’re half Black.”
– Half Bad, eARC, pg 25
Nathan’s family is most heavily present in the very beginning of the book, and less so as the book progresses; but their influence on Nathan is huge. Especially Arran, who always always made it abundantly clear to Nathan that being half-anything didn’t matter. His actions mattered. Arran has a faith in Nathan that is absolutely unflappable and incredibly powerful, and that faith sustains Nathan when things become utterly bleak. It’s like Nathan is at the center of this storm of people, a few of whom are lights in the darkness and who try to outshine the bad, but most of whom are dead-set against him and who try to tear him down by any means necessary. And the fact that Nathan has so few people in his life who actually have faith in him, whom he can trust, lends even more weight to those moments later in the book, when he meets people he can trust.
One other point I have to make, is about the romance. Yes, there is a girl in the picture. She isn’t a terribly interesting character, to me — but then again, we really don’t get to know her very well anyway, because the two are separated for quite some time while Nathan is off dealing with things that no one should ever have to deal with. Does he dwell 24/7 on his lost love? Does he pine for her day after day, knowing they’re meant to be together, and Oh, the injustice of their separation!? No. He’s got some other pretty important priorities, like, idk, staying alive, and finding someone to give him three gifts on his birthday so he can officially become a witch. He thinks about her, yes, but it isn’t constant. The point of this book isn’t romance, and it never felt like it was trying to be. So I really appreciated that.
The Writing and Pacing
I loved the writing. Half Bad is not a pretty book. The writing is often beautiful in its starkness, but the story itself, and the events that take place, are anything but pretty, or happy. But even with the stark writing, it’s the kind of starkness that makes you believe every word on the page, makes you feel every emotion as Nathan experiences it. It draws you in from page one and doesn’t let go. It actually starts out in second-person for a few chapters, and then goes into first person soon after. But instead of that being weird, I loved it. All it did for me was throw me into Nathan’s life head-first, and I think that was a huge part about why it immediately sucked me in.
The trick is to not mind.
Not mind about it hurting, not mind about anything.
– Half Bad, eARC, pg 4
The writing really feels like Nathan is telling this story as it’s happening to him. For those second-person sections — you know how you sometimes use ‘you’ when you’re telling a story to someone? As you do… ;) It felt like that. Many sections are very stream-of-consciousness (but never forced or awkward), which really served to draw me into the story even more. Everything about this book just sucked my focus onto it the whole time I was reading.
As for the pacing, this is one aspect where I think opinions are going to diverge. The first half of the book is paced excellently, and written beautifully, and just… I loved everything about it. It’s comprised of flashbacks to Nathan’s incredibly unfair childhood, as well as details about his current… situation… (locked up in a cage outside his captor’s cottage in the middle of nowhere). It’s often hard to read, but also a little too easy, because the writing grabs you and doesn’t let you look away.
The second half is mostly present-day, and is pretty fast-paced. With all the action and capital-S-Stuff that happens, it has sections that feel very different from the first half, and the writing wasn’t quite as striking, to me. I didn’t not like it — I was still glued to the pages, and was feverishly turning them to find out what would happen. But that’s me. I was attached to Nathan, to his story, and there was no going back. But it does have a distinctly different feel and pace from the first half, which might throw some people off. Not me, but some people.
I can’t even. Everything about this world feels so real. While I was reading, I totally believed that witches were a thing. This culture of White Witches and Black Witches and one single Half Code (one! there are no others! And they are terrified of him). Anyway. It just all felt believable, and even though we’re in the dark about a lot of things (just as Nathan is) it never felt like there’s any information lacking just for the sake of it — like it’s being kept out for the sequel or something. Everything feels fleshed out from page 1, and even though we don’t have detailed knowledge of everything yet, it’s all there and very much present in the periphery.
This book was one of my most-anticipated early 2014 releases, and I was not disappointed. I loved it. The first half may have been stronger writing-wise, but I was glued to the entire thing from start to finish. It’s the kind of book where you stay up WAY too late reading just one more chapter; and then when you wake up before your alarm anyway, you don’t even care, because, Oh, look, I have extra time to read!! (No, I’m serious, this actually happened to me.)
Green deals with the issues of nature vs. nurture; people’s tendency to judge others without knowing them; and what happens when people who fear someone actually become the ones who need to be feared. Nathan’s predicament is unenviable and awful, and I felt for him the entire way through. I cannot wait for book 2.