Book Review | Half Bad by Sally Green

“In both violence and fame, your bloodline out does mine.”

On a eight hour return trip on the train to Doncaster I read one of the many, many books I received for my birthday. Some of the books I was familiar with such as Harry Potter and Gone Girl and others not so much, The Miniaturist and Wild. Among the unknowns was Half Bad, Sally Green’s debut novel, the first in a trilogy, with the second novel Half Wild out this March. Here are some of my thoughts, don’t worry i’ll try to keep it spoiler free!

The story is told from the perspective of Nathan, a witch; a half-code. Half white from his deceased mother’s side and half black from his murderous and notorious fathers. Nathan is considered an abomination due to his bloodline and he is treated as such; tortured, abused, branded and caged. The only way to receive his magical ability is to be given three gifts before his seventeenth birthday otherwise he will never become a witch, and die as a result. He attempts to escape and survive in a modern day world governed by a secret council of witches intent on molding him into the ultimate weapon, the only weapon, that can be used to kill his heart-eating outlaw father, Marcus. 

Brutal, graphic and down-right tragic in parts Half Bad is so much more than the Twilight/Hunger Games/Harry Potter amalgamation so many have wrote it off as. Some comparisons to the bespectacled wizard are unavoidable, even I have to keep myself from referring to the title as the Half Blood Prince. Also I thought the ‘notifications’ echoed Dolores Umbridge’s Educational decrees from the Order of the Phoenix but i’ll stop here and let you draw your own comparisons. Despite this the narratives are very different: I’m “lying in a brew of my own sick and piss”, is not something that I remember the chosen one having to endure. Nathan is a tortured and complex character, the cover art reflects his duality; his compassion versus his anger, his mother’s healing ability versus his inability to sleep inside without slowly falling into madness, the curse of his dark ancestors. His constant internal battle continually has the reader doubting whether Nathan is White or Black, and even then wondering whether the Black Witches are truly the evil ones.

After reading Half Bad I realised it is considered a Young Adult book, as I’ve said before I hate when books are categorised like this as I feel some adults may regard it as inferior to proper ‘grown-up’ books. The beauty of a book is that age doesn’t restrict our ability to connect with characters and situations. I believe we can all read the same book and identify with it on a wide range and depth of levels regardless of gender, culture or age. So, once again, I’m unapologetic for reviewing a book some believe is ‘designed’ for teenagers – I’ve done it before and i’ll definitely do it again! Anyway you’ve probably already guessed that I really enjoyed Half Bad. It was a grim read at times but I really connected with Nathan’s struggle because of this. It’s a fantasy novel that deals with some very real issues; intolerance and persecution of individuals/races/cultures. I love the world Sally Green has created and the emotions she instilled in me whilst reading. If you can avoid fixating of it’s comparisons to other franchises Half Bad is an addictive and heartbreaking read that will have you desperately clambering to your laptop to pre-order the sequel.