Half Bad by Sally Green tells the story of Nathan who is the son of a white witch mother and a black witch father. In Nathan’s world, black witches are hated and feared and Nathan’s parentage makes him a pariah, someone to be caged and studied. To make matters worse, Nathan’s 17th birthday is approaching by which time he must receive three gifts and the blood of a family member – or die.
The story starts off with Nathan in a cage and trying to escape before flashing back to recount his earlier life. The story is told primarily in the first person present, almost stream-of-consciousness – with some diversions off to the second person when Nathan is trying to distance himself from what is going on, such as during torture. The narrative style is deliberately simplistic to reflect Nathan’s lack of book learning.
What I liked
The narration. I LOVED the audio narration of Half Bad, which was done by Carl Prekopp. Written as it is in the first person present, the narrator IS Nathan, and it’s as if the protagonist himself is speaking. This is emphasised by the simple, informal language. My heart rate did shoot up during certain sections because of the writing paired with the narration. This is a book I would definitely recommend enjoying as an audiobook rather than in written format.
The world. I found it interesting that those in the world try to separate witches into black or white, good or evil, when it’s obvious right from the beginning that this is not an realistic worldview. One character tries to claim that the difference is that white witches use their powers for good and black witches not so much. Clearly that is so simplistic as to be laughable. From all the second-hand reports we hear of attacks by black witches, it seems that these incidents were in reaction to white witch activities. Given that the first witches we meet are white witches who harshly curtail our protagonist’s freedoms with regulations reminiscent of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter before imprisoning him in a cage, the reader is not exactly disposed to like them.
The pacing. Given that our hero is under a deadline – to receive his gifts before his 17th birthday or die – the pacing and narrative tension is kept high. It always helps the pacing when the protagonist has to chase down a McGuffin – in this case, someone who can grant him three gifts and the blood of a family member. Incidentally, it’s not made clear to me whether the consequences of meeting this deadline would be as severe as Nathan believes – the point is, he believes it. The action sequences are interesting being written in the first person present. This was the point at which my own heart rate increased notably.
The protagonist. I did like Nathan – despite his lack of book learning, he is pretty shrewd I look forward to seeing how he upsets the Council’s worldview in future books.
What I didn’t like
The romance. For me, it just didn’t gel – it felt forced. My issue was that Nathan didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Annalise before falling for her. OK, she is one of the few non- family members who is nice to him, but still, this subplot just didn’t work for me. (In all fairness, I should point out I rarely like the romance in YA.)
I would certainly recommend Half Bad – especially as an audiobook – and gave it four stars out of five.