You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.
I’m not sure how I first heard about Half Bad–it was sometime late last year I think–but I knew when I read the synopsis that I HAD to read this book. Witches? Hello—they ARE my first love in all thing paranormal. And the fact that it was a male POV was just icing on the cake, friends. And then when all the praise for this book starting coming in from across the pond…it was a done deal after that. Half Badwas officially one of my most anticipated reads of 2014. Luckily my super generous and very cool friend Lauren was able to snag me an extra copy of this beauty (and it a beauty isn’t it…look at that gorgeous cover) at ALA and I set about reading immediately. Have I mentioned how awesome my friends are? SO AWESOME.
Anyway, I got the book and read it in about a day. The verdict? I really, really enjoyed it. After reading I engaged Lauren and Jen, another bloggy friend who had also recently read it, in an email discussion. It turns out that all three of us shared very similar feelings about Half Bad. In fact, Lauren and Jen each wrote a collaborative review post on their blogs that is fabulous. Click on their names to read their take on this book.
I feel like doing a top ten–there was a lot I loved about Half Bad and this might be the perfect way to review it.
The Top Ten Things I LOVED about Half Bad
1. The protagonist Nathan
I really, really liked Nathan. I know some reviewers are a little more hesitant to jump on board with this guy–but I found the whole “Am I good or am I bad” question to be really compelling. I had so much sympathy for Nathan. Because of the way Half Bad is told–and I’ll discuss this a little more next–we get see how awful his life has been as the son of a White witch and a Black witch. And not just ANY Black witch–the Mack Daddy, baddest of the bad Black witches. As such, Nathan’s and outcast and I will always, always have a soft spot for this type character. Nathan’s not perfect–he does some questionable things and makes some poor decisions but that is what makes him so much fun to read. I see a lot of growth for Nathan as this series progresses.
2. The manner in which the story was told
Half Bad is interesting. It starts out being told in present time–and Nathan’s present happens to be imprisonment in a CAGE in Scotland. So right from the get-go things are INTENSE.
The second part has Nathan recalling back his past–and this is the part where we learn all the details about Nathan’s history. During this section we meet his grandmother and sisters and brother. We are told what happened to his mother. We also learn about his father–whom he has never met but who is well known for his notoriety. We watch him enter school and meet a girl who becomes his first love. And we also learn just how he ended up in that cage.
After these first two parts the reader is taken back to Nathan’s present–back in the cage– and the story remains in this tense for the remainder of the book.
Now I know this seems kind of strange–kind of an odd way to relay a story—but, for me at least, it totally worked. I’m not always a fan of the narrative jumping back and forth in time in the books I read–it usually confuses me at some point–but here is didn’t at all. I liked that we got to witness Nathan’s childhood and the events that lead to where he finds himself presently. I liked that it felt more like showing than telling written this way. I can’t say that this technique would always work but in this case it did.
This naturally leads me to POV and perspective. The beginning of the book–the very beginning when we learn that Nathan is being held captive in a cage– is told in 2nd person POV. Nathan speaks in terms of “you”, as in “You wake up and remember where you are.” I know that 2nd person POV is a tricky perspective to write and to read. Many readers aren’t fans of this tense. I’m not one of those readers. For whatever reason, I totally was able to switch back and forth as Nathan switched from 2nd person POV in the beginning to 1st person POV for the remainder of the book. So much of this book is introspective, the reader getting a bird’s eye view into Nathan’s mind and mental state. The parts where he is imprisoned, and some parts where he is on the run, are periods of isolation for him. It just made sense to me reading those in 2nd person POV, almost as if he was talking to himself (because really he has no one else to talk to) and we the reader are listening in.
4. The FABULOUS secondaries
Ok, this is where Half Bad really shined, IMO. There are a lot of characters in this book– and most of them are written so darn well. I’m thinking about Arran. And Celia. And Ellen. And Rose. And GABRIEL. And old Mary. And Gram. And Mercury. And Marcus. And Trevor and Jim. So MANY great, great characters. You know, if you read this blog, how I feel about my secondaries. To say that they are important to me or that I’m mildly obsessed with them is an understatement. And Sally Green did not let me down in Half Bad. I love Nathan–but I have to say–there are a few secondaries that rival my feelings for this protagonist. If I had to pick a fave, it’s a tie between Ellen and Gabriel. 🙂
5. Alternate history and world building
Ok, I’m a giant fan of alternate history books. And great world building goes hand in hand with this, right? The premise of this book is that witchcraft is very much alive and kicking, and has been for thousands of years, although it is hidden from all non-witches–the fain–who make up the majority of the world. Green has written a unique mythology into the origin of the witches in Half Bad but the gist if it is this: There are White witches who use their powers for good and Black–who don’t. Of course these two factions are at odds with each other. The White witches are presided over by a council. This council keeps track of the White’s lineage but also keeps records of all half codes–or half breeds–witches that are of mixed heritage–part White and part Black or part White and part fain. Half code whets, witches under the age of seventeen who have not come into their powers yet–are also documented and registered. When a whet comes of age they are given three gifts along with the blood of a witch relative–with these gifts the whet becomes a full-fledged witch and develops his/or her special gift. Gifts can range from healing to shape shifting and beyond. And gifts can be stolen by other witches.
Nathan is a half code. His mother was a White and his father was a Black. But no one is sure which side Nathan will fall on once he comes of age. And the White council watches him very closely.
I think that the world building in Half Bad is done pretty well. There are some gaps and there are some lingering questions–BUT. I feel like Green is doing a pretty great job at relaying this information on to the reader. And I feel like more will be revealed about this world as the series goes on.
6. White witches vs. Black witches
So the crux of the story is about these two types of witches. One set, who is perceived as GOOD, and another who is perceived as NOT. Nathan is unique–as far as he knows, he’s the only half White/ half Black witch– at least in his part of the world. And what I liked is that Nathan gets to spend time with both White and Black witches in Half Bad. Everyone wants to know which way Nathan will go but, as is usually the case, not everything is–wait for it–black or white. As Nathan gets to know these two different groups it becomes obvious that there aren’t clear cut lines between good and bad–and it amplifies the suspense wondering who Nathan should trust and who might be out to betray him.
7. The mysterious father figure
From the outset we learn that Nathan’s father Marcus is the biggest, baddest Black witch of them all. He’s like the Charles Manson of Black witches. He’s loathed. He’s feared. He’s this legend of pure evil. And Nathan has never met him. Nathan feels a sort of morbid curiosity for this man–but gradually that curiosity grows into something more–not affection really—because how can you feel affection for a) someone you’ve never met or spoken with or b) a monster? But when faced with the task of possibly aiding in the capture of his father, Nathan reacts unexpectantly.
I won’t spoil anything here–but I will say that I am VERY intrigued by this character and anxious to learn more. Is he truly the villain the world makes him out to be? Or is he possible anti-hero material? Oh, how I love a good anti-hero. It’s anyone’s guess at this stage of the game but I am very, very curious.
8. This seems familiar somehow
It was probably a quarter of the way into Half Bad that I began to feel like there was something familiar about this story and these characters. Good witches and bad witches living unnoticed among humans. Outcast parent-less children. Half breeds. Moral dilemmas. A Voldemort-esque super villain. Does any of this sound vaguely familiar? I was totally, totally getting a Harry Potter vibe as I was reading. After I finished reading it was one of the first things that I remarked on to Lauren and Jen in my email. And yes, they noticed it too.
Now listen, this is NOT a Harry Potter rip-off. There are some similarities but this is a totally different story. But if you like Harry Potter and if you’re a fan of those things that I mentioned then I think you might really like this about Half Bad too. For me it was almost like slipping back into familiar territory. I didn’t feel like it was a hack job–it felt almost nostalgic to me. The point is, I enjoyed the familiarity.
9. The romance is NOT the focus–for now, anyway
There is a romantic plot thread in Half Bad–but it’s certainly not the central focus. And for me, this thread was the weakest and least developed part of the book. I’m not a major fan of the love interest, her motives are really unclear at this point in the book and I feel a disconnect from her that may be due to this, or maybe I feel this disconnect for other reasons.
What I do like about this romance being kind of iffy is that I’m hoping it means that there is room for new developments (maybe even a new love interest) in the next few books. Am I advocating a love triangle? No, not really. Am I hoping for an alternate love interest? Yes, maybe.
Now, if you have read Half Bad and want to hear a very interesting theory that Lauren came up with about the possible direction Half Bad could go in romantically speaking, head over to her review and check out the SPOLIER section. Lauren has hypothesized a fascinating theory that I am hoping holds water. REALLY HOPING.
10. Lots of unanswered questions and therefore lots of potential
Half Bad is not an absolutely flawless book. The pacing is a little off–and there are a ton of dangling plot threads and holes. But this is the first book in a planned series of three (or is it four? I’ve seen both) books and I feel that, like most first books, Half Bad is setting the reader up for what’s to come. Laying the groundwork. Introducing characters. Defining conflicts (well, sort of) And also leaving the reader in the dark about a number of things. And you know what? I am TOTALLY cool with this. Why? Because I see so much potential in this series. I see so many different directions that this series could go in–and I know there are as yet unseen directions waiting for me to discover as well. It makes me excited as a reader.
So. Is Half Bad a book for YOU? Do you like alternate history and fantasy? Are you a fan of the outcast character on a journey of self discovery? Do you like characters that face moral dilemmas and questions about identity? Are you interested in books that host a cast of really interesting and well-crafted characters? Do you like romance but appreciate that it doesn’t overtake the entire focus of the story? Do you like books that make you question the whole good vs evil trope and everything in-between? If you answered yes than you should pick up Half Bad and give it a look. I do think it is the start of what could be an epic new fantasy series.