Title: Half Bad
Author: Sally Green
Format: Paperback, 394 pages
Publication: March 4th 2014 by Viking Books for Young Readers (first published January 1st 2014)
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Contemporary, Urban Fantasy, Young adult
Other keywords: Witchcraft and Wizardry
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 his every action is monitored, when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?
I approached Half Bad with no more than the knowledge of its premise and that turned out to be a good call.
The writing style is blunt, and I can see how this may be a drag for others, but I think it’s very fitting to our narrator. Nathan is almost-illiterate. He’s never done well at school and ensuing events will only worsen this. But with her choice of tone, Green reinforces the mournful tragedy of Nathan’s situation. I mean, I can mention child abuse but I feel like that’ll be the understatement of the year. Having said that, however, it bears pointing out that this isn’t a pity show. Our anti-hero doesn’t just mope around. And it’s divided in five parts; the first part, which is done in 2nd-person, is intriguing and pulls you right in.
“It’s cooling. Numbing.
And it would be so good to be numb like that all over, numb to it all.”
I also thought the pacing had a steady rhythm at the earlier parts but fell short of problematic in places. And later I’ll get to the line where I’ll dub Half Bad as ‘quietly compelling’ and you’ll wonder—as I have—how is it possible for problematic pacing and compelling to mesh up but I’ll try to make sense. It’s not that Half Bad doesn’t know where it’s heading, it just really took its time to get there. Albeit, where Green lacks the action, she compensates with terrific character connections. I will go overboard here and tell you: Nathan and Arran’s relationship is probably one of my most favorite portrayals of familial love ever. It’s quietly compelling that way, because you are invested in the characters, you’re anxious to know what happens to them.
The plot is basically good versus evil and owning yourself. But, like I’ve said, its strongest suit lies in the characterization. The characters get under your skin and grow in you. Nathan is indomitable at best and stubborn at worst. Arran is gentle and thoughtful and cares a great deal after Nathan. Then we have Annalise and Gabriel which I wish had more airtime, but I’m guessing the sequel has that covered.
“It’s how you think and how you behave that shows who you are.”
Half Bad would’ve been a solid five-star. It has the making of one: it’s a muted page-turner, has fully realized characters, an MC to root for and a solid plot. Sadly, the pacing is an unmistakable stumbling block for me. But will I read Half Wild? Yes! Definitely. I’m too attached to the characters not to.
Sally Green lives in northwest England. She has had various jobs and even a profession, but in 2010 she discovered a love of writing and now just can’t stop. She used to keep chickens, makes decent jam, doesn’t mind ironing, loves to walk in Wales even when it’s raining, and will probably never jog again. She really ought to drink less coffee. Half Bad is her first novel.
Have you read this? Do you agree with me or do you have other thoughts? Have I helped you decide whether or not to pick this one up? What are your recent reads on witchcraft and wizardry? Or what are you currently reading, witch-y or not? Do you get attached to secondary characters as easily? Sound off in the comments below! And someone PLEASE talk to me about Arran!