Half Bad by Sally Green

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Half Bad by Sally Green

Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Witch story which doesn't offer anything new in terms of plot lines or tropes, but which does have wonderful writing, interesting subversions and a barnstorming intro. And a romance that isn't front and centre. Thank goodness. I really enjoyed it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: March 2014
Publisher: Penguin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0141350865

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Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2015
Shortlisted for the 2015 Waterstones Children’s Book Prize: Best Book for Teens

Before I start, I'll declare an uninterest. I'm not really into the paranormal genre, and I'm definitely not into paranormal romances. I like fantasy and I've nothing against the supernatural. It's just the predictability of the paranormal genre that puts me off. I prefer books that surprise me rather than books that comfort me by giving me what I expect. So, you realise, I'm coming at Half Bad from the perspective of an un-fan. And I loved it!

The opening section is an absolute barnstormer. We find a boy imprisoned in a cage outside a cottage in rural Scotland. His captor, a woman, is pitiless, and we quickly discover that magic comes into the equation. The prisoner can heal himself after a beating but he can't beat the combination of magic and science that keeps him captive. These opening chapters are utterly riveting. We don't know the boy's name. We don't know why he is there. We only know, through short, sharp, shocking sentences, what it is like to be him.

Subsequently, we find out that the boy is Nathan. He is a half-breed witch - his mother a white witch and his father the most notorious of all black witches. As a half code, Nathan is feared and reviled by everyone in the white witch community. And with his mother dead and even his older sister against him, only his grandmother stands between him and the Council's terrible punishment of Retribution. Bullied, excluded, forced to undergo endless Council assessments, it's inevitable that Nathan's thoughts turn to his father. And to what will happen on his seventeenth birthday when he comes of age as a witch.

Will Nathan mature as a white or a black witch? Will the Council send him for Retribution or use him as bait to catch his father? And will Nathan ever even meet this terrifying figure, let alone receive his three gifts?

A strong theme in much YA fiction is the treatment of the other. And Half Bad is very strong on this. You could read it as a parable of racism, or homophobia or anti-Semitism. White witches are taught that black witches are everything that is bad and that any means must be employed to be rid of them. Any means, no matter how violent, how ruthless, how cruel. But Nathan wants to be good. He doesn't always behave well but this is mostly because he is treated so poorly and put in so many unjust situations that he has little choice. And for the Council, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy. So Nathan, as a character, is often quite unsympathetic. I liked this subversion of the standard tropes of good and evil found in paranormal stories.

In fact, Half Bad employs and subverts a great many of the usual motifs and plot devices from the genre. I really appreciated the romance taking a back seat to the quest, too. It's not an original story by any means but it is an original treatment.

And this is why I thoroughly enjoyed Half Bad. The writing is great - precise, elegant, to the point. And it was unexpected. Just how I like my stories!

For more male witches as central characters, try The White Cat by Holly Black. And for a very different allegory of racism, try the Noughts & Crosses sequence by Malorie Blackman.

Buy Half Bad by Sally Green at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Half Bad by Sally Green at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Half Bad by Sally Green at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Half Bad by Sally Green at Amazon.com.


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