There’s these two kids, boys, sitting close together, squished in by the big arms of an old chair.
I admit that this review of Sally Green’s debut YA must-read has been a long time coming. It’s not because I disliked the book or that I thought it wasn’t worth reviewing it’s just that the book itself promises so much more to come in the follow up novels that I wasn’t sure how to approach reviewing the present title.
Any YA novel that focuses on a subject even vaguely related to a magical world is always going to draw parallels to the world of Harry Potter (much in the same way a dystopian novel will be “the next Hunger Games” or a vampiric romance will be labelled “for lovers of the Twilight saga”) and that’s a huge comparison to live up to! Despite being a massive HP fan, I didn’t actually make any link to the world of Hogwarts when I started Half Bad as I felt there is enough of a difference in style and content to allow Green’s debut novel to stand separately.
Set in modern England, an ancient battle between the White and Black witches is played out under the inattentive eyes of Fains (humans). Half Bad follows the ill-fated life of Nathan Byrn, the only child ever to be born of a White witch mother and Black witch father, as he tries to find a way to be a ‘half-breed’ in a world of clear identities.
This book is absolutely a narrative driven more by psychology than plot, written from the perspective of Nathan as he grows up and explores more of the harsh world he finds himself in. The tale twists and turns in different directions, which reflects the inner struggle of our teenage boy looking to establish himself in a world that only wants to control and suppress. The characterisation of Nathan is by far the strength of this novel but Green almost upsets the psychology of his struggle with her “tell don’t show” approach which at times threatened to beat you round the head with the fact that Nathan is suffering – the message was received clearly by the fact the book opens with him locked in a cage!
I also found it very difficult to understand the logic behind some of the trials Nathan experiences in his life as a Whet (an uninitiated and therefore inactive witch). For example, why would a Council, who wanted to keep him close and monitor his behavior, do everything in their power to make his life as miserable as possible? Surely this will only push him further into the ‘wrong’ side as a way of looking for salvation? I mean, I get the plot reason behind it but surely a powerful government body would have more sense in the ‘real’ world?!
It is a flawed book, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s not damaged beyond repair. Half Bad is compelling not sophisticated, intriguing but not gripping, developing not developed – basically, in a nut shell, it’s getting there! As the first title in a trilogy it felt very much like the opening book, establishing the characters and paving the way for more excitement to come in later books, and I am intrigued to see if it picks up in the next installment.