“Half Bad” by Sally Green showed up on my Goodreads home page as a book that was trending in the fantasy genre, and it looked promising, so I wrote it down on my library grocery list.
I’ve noticed that I gravitate toward YA fantasy often. I’m not embarrassed about that, but I do feel a little out of place browsing around in the “Teen Room” of my library, so I try to have a plan for getting in and out quickly. I checked the library’s online catalog to make sure they had “Half Bad,” and managed to secure myself a copy with ease.
There are a lot of comparisons being thrown around between this book/trilogy and other YA fantasy series. I tried to ignore much of that and judge the story on its own merit. (That being said, it was difficult not to draw my own parallels. There seems to have been some strong influence from other works within the genre.)
The main character of “Half Bad” is a teenaged boy named Nathan, who lives with his maternal grandmother and several half-siblings. His father is absent, and his mother ended her own life when he was very young.
Nathan’s mother was a white witch, and his father was a black witch. There is a rather obvious association with good magic and bad magic, respectively, with those two designations.
What makes a witch white or black is unclear in the book. It seems to be hereditary, but some people tell Nathan that he can choose to be white instead of black with his thoughts and behavior.
Being a black witch is a very undesirable thing in Nathan’s society, which is basically contemporary U.K., so for the most part he tries to deny any traits he thinks may have come from his dangerous father, at least for a large portion of his life so far.
There is a relatively low amount of actual magic in the book, which is in part because witches in this fictional world do not practice their craft until they come of age (at seventeen years old). I imagine there will be more magic in the subsequent books, because Nathan finally turns seventeen toward the end of the novel.
Nathan is the only half-white, half-black witch that he knows of, and the governing body of white witches attempts to interfere with his life and persecute him with increasing frequency and severity as he grows older.
Eventually, this Council of white witches ceases their tiptoeing around and imprisons him, sending him to live in a cage in a remote location with a single witch watching over him and attempting to teach him things. Much of what he goes through could be called torture, and yet it is not entirely clear whether his jailer, Celia, is a “bad guy” through-and-through or somewhat sympathetic to Nathan.
Parts of the story tell how Nathan came to be imprisoned, and parts are about his ordeal in captivity, and his plans to escape. Nathan needs to escape to find someone, possibly his father, who will participate with him in the ritual that allows him to become a full-fledged witch, for he has heard that if he does not go through with this rite, he will die.
The book has a varying pace, which keeps it interesting. Nathan is a fairly well-developed character, but there are few other characters in the book who seem truly realistic and multi-dimensional.
(One character informs Nathan that a third character is in love with him, but there was no indication in behavior or dialogue of that depth of feeling. It was certainly a case of telling, and not showing, on the author’s part.)
While “Half Bad” kept me entertained, it did not dip down very far below the surface. Many questions I had about Nathan’s world and abilities went unanswered. Again, it’s possible that things will come together more in the sequels, but I am not sure whether I am invested in the story enough to follow up with them. I might. It was exciting at times, and has potential to develop into something more substantial.