Wanted by no one.
Hunted by everyone.
Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it’s too late. But how can Nathan find his father when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?
I feel like, despite (inaccurate) comparisons to both The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, this book hasn’t garnered half as much as attention or hype as it probably should have. Maybe I’m just late and have, as always, missed that buzzy first bit of the party where everyone has arrived and is super hyped for Caribbean Crush and dancing on tables to Justin Bieber?
Have I arrived during the hangover stage? Because that would be so typical of me.
Either way, I really enjoyed Half Bad, the first installment in a dark fantasy trilogy by Sally Green. In Green’s modern society, witches live among humans (Fains); their community bisected into White Witches and Black Witches. White Witches are the tyrannical ruling class, dedicated to protecting the magical community and hunting down Black Witches.
Enter our main character, Nathan Byrn. Reviled by White Witches, Nathan is a Half Code. Kind of like a Half Blood in Harry Potter (“Me Dad’s a muggle, Mam’s a witch!” Sorry, couldn’t help myself), he was born to a White Witch Mother and a Black Witch Father. Unfortunately for Nathan his father, Marcus, is not any old garden variety Black Witch, but the most evil Black Witch of all time.
The story unfolds over quite a long timeline, following Nathan as he grows from a young boy into a young man, encountering some of the usual problems that come with hormones, growing up and all of that awkward jazz, as well as some otherworldly issues. The transitions are well-managed by Green, who uses distinctly divided sections and short chapters to feed the reader vital information whilst keeping the story clear and moving at a steady pace.
Half Bad is not a happy book, but it is a page turner. The plot is unashamed of its violence, and Green’s melancholic prose creates an atmosphere that is both bleak and vicious. You don’t often see the use of a second person narrative in YA books, but the chapters that employed this technique were striking; allowing me to get a real insight into Nathan’s head.
The hidden-in-plain sight world of the witches will undoubtedly draw comparisons with Harry Potter, but the world building is much less complicated, with many of the events take place in real-life settings like central London. There are no weird, unnecessary plot devices which you often find in fantasy novels featuring magic, and the development of Nathan’s magical abilities and the world-building around him felt natural due to the steady pacing and slow drip of relevant information. The parts of the book set in the English/Welsh countryside really complimented the tone of the story, lending a kind of pagan feel to the proceedings which I really loved.
This book is full of multi-faceted characters. There are bad people who do good things, good people who do evil things and just plain irredeemable people like Nathan’s half-sister Jessica, who I absolutely hated (in a good way, of course). The supporting cast feel three-dimensional, with room still to grow throughout the series. If I have one criticism, it’s that I would have liked to have seen more of Marcus, but I have a hunch that this will be more than rectified in the installments that follow.
Although essentially a fantasy novel, the plot hangs on some key psychological topics like the nature versus nurture debate, the toxicity of parent/child relationships and the age-old question: can a person ever be wholly good, or wholly evil? At its core, Half Bad is a classic coming of age tale, which focuses on growing up in a difficult time in a difficult world, as well as finding out who you want to be, regardless of what others say you are.
- Author: Sally Green
- Publication Date: 4th March 2014
- Publisher: Viking Books
- Pages: 384
- Rating: 4/5
- In short: Nathan Byrn and his unbreakable will to survive, plus magic.