A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to a very exciting event with Penguin, for the pre-launch of Half Bad by Sally Green, in Manchester. I was very excited, as I always am when such things come about, but due to such irritating things like having a full time job, I couldn’t attend in the end. However, my good friend Peter Saxton of Wstones head office managed to source me a proof anyway, because I am a lucky young chap!
Half Bad is set in a world that lurks under our own, in an England subject to a secret war between White & Black Witches. The book follows Nathan, who is half Black, half White – an outcast from both societies, he’s persecuted by the Council of White Witches, who run the country & the hunt Black Witches mercilessly. Nathan’s father is one of the most hated & feared Black Witches known, & the Council fear he will give in to his dark side one day. After he falls in love with a White Witch at his school, the Council decide Nathan is too much trouble, & lock him away for years, training him to become a merciless weapon… One they can wield to kill his own father. Nathan escapes though, & is determined to find his father, who he has never known, & to receive his three gifts that will activate his Witching power when he turns Seventeen. The clock is ticking, as his birthday rapidly approaches, pursued on all sides by the Council’s Hunters, Nathan’s list of allies grows thin, & he must turn to the darkest corners of society if he hopes to survive…
Half Bad is Dark Fantasy, the likes of which hasn’t been around for a good long while. It’s a fascinating debut, set in a strange, shadowy world just next to ours. Nathan is a tormented lead, full of passion, but equally full of anger… But that anger we get to see developing & we grow hatred towards his tormentors along with him, which helps the reader to rally alongside his struggle. Following him from a young boy to a sixteen year old lets us really get to understand him, lets us get under his skin & feel for his conflicted intentions. The supporting characters are interesting & diverse, but occasionally a little lacking in development… I think this is because the first book in a series has a lot of setting up to do, so secondary characters get more focus in later books. I particularly look forward to seeing more from Nathan’s father Marcus, who has a calm, forceful demeanour that I found fascinating. Annalise, the story’s love interest seems like a compassionate character, & I look forward to seeing more of her, too.
Sally works hard to create a world that inhabits our own, where non-magical people, or fains are all but oblivious to the war around them, & this creates a very interesting, dark underworld, like a twisted Harry Potter, as hidden violence plagues the streets. Her descriptive passages, as she shows us the world through Nathan’s wondrous eyes, are beautiful, & she shows a real passion & joy in the world of nature. I genuinely felt swept up in the fleeting times spent in woods & Welsh mountains. The first half of the book, with Nathan’s captive life, works to develop the book’s world & introduce us to the main character, fleshing him out & making him familiar. After the halfway point, the plot is constantly shifting, introducing all sorts of fantastical characters, full of pitfalls & constant stop-start action, & it becomes a breathtakingly gripping whirlwind as we edge closer to Nathan’s seventeenth birthday.
Underneath the action, & the magical world, there’s an awful lot of subtext going on in Half Bad. The reception of gifts when turning seventeen, the angst & unease that the characters feel heading towards their birthday, is a great metaphor for the fear of adulthood, & the prospect of great power in the potential for your life as an adult. Feeling pressured by other adult’s schemes & plans is the way a lot of teenagers feel on the cusp of their future, & the actions of the Black & White Witches, vying for control of their children’s future, really strikes that chord. Nathan’s nature, as having the potential for good, or evil, is a classic driving power behind many great main characters, & he struggles with his decisions throughout… This duality in his nature makes his actions balance on a knife edge, upping the stakes of his decisions & creating a tension that runs throughout the story.
Half Bad is a great, well written & investing start to what I expect to be a hugely popular combination of contemporary fiction, dark fantasy & romance. I strongly recommend it! And who knows, maybe I’ll get chance to meet Sally Green for the launch of the sequel!
As always, thanks for reading, & feel free to share!
D is for Darran
P.S. Half Bad hits bookshelves this March, keep an eye out!