Book Review: Half Bad

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Author: Sally Green
ISBN: 978-0-14-135087-5
RRP: £2.99

Half Bad is Sally Green’s debut novel, the first installment of a trilogy following Nathan Byrn. Half Bad is set in a world of magic where there are witches living in society and trying to remain inconspicuous. Those of a magical nature are witches and those who are not are fain; for much of the book I felt there was a very Harry Potter feel to it with the way the world was drawn.

Nathan is the child of two witches being raised by his grandmother. He has never met his father and his mother passed away when he was quite young, he has two brothers and a sister but has grown up quite isolated and alone. He is the son of a white witch and a black witch you see, and that means he is different – many would say wrong, bad and irredeemable but he when we go back to the beginning he was just a little boy. He hadn’t had an opportunity to grow or learn. He was being raised in a family of white witches and had no contact with his father so all of his influences were white but it seems that the magical community is quite close knit so everyone knew the story of his origin and he was often ostracised.

The Council of White Witches in England, Scotland and Wales resolve to keep a record of all witches in their jurisdiction, ostensibly for the protection of all white witches. It quickly becomes apparent that this register is more about pigeonholing witches and whets (any witch under the age of 17) who are of less than 100% white parentage. Whets of mixed parentage will be coded according to their parentage until such time as it can be determined whether they are white or black witches. This is not ideal for those of mixed parentage because there will always be some, like Nathan’s sister, who immediately think that if you aren’t all white then you’re black.

Nathan has been taught by his Gran never to reveal too much of himself, never to give away any information he doesn’t have to, so when his testing starts at the Council offices he refuses to answer their questions therefore making it impossible for them to rule on his nature one way or the other. Every year he must front up to be tested and every year he refuses to answer their questions.

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Whets become witches at 17 with the ritual giving of 3 gifts, which allows the whet to come into their power. It is rumoured that if a white whet doesn’t receive their 3 gifts they lose their powers but the situation for a black whet is much more dangerous, if they don’t receive their gifts they die. Nathan has always believed himself to be white, a belief strengthened by his Gran who will be the one to give his gifts. But when things go wrong Nathan is in a position of complete uncertainty because he’s not sure he’s going to get his gifts and he’s not willing to risk the consequences so with a few short weeks until his birthday he’s on a race against the clock to get to the one person who may be able to help – but will the price be too high.

Half Bad is a book about discrimination, persecution and judging the son by the sins of the father – set in a world of witches, though without much witchcraft. Half Bad is aptly titled, it could just as easily have been Half Good but the world Nathan lives in, much like ours, is more prone to see the negative half. He is hunted, ridiculed, tormented, tortured and beaten by the GOOD white witches for being fathered by a black witch, something that is completely out of his control. He has never met the black witch so has never been in a position to be influenced by him. He is being raised by a white witch, with his 100% white witch siblings, only one of whom he has any sort of relationship with. The example of Goodness set by most of the white witches he knows is appalling.  There are a lot of parallels in their magical society to our society and the way they judge and discriminate.

Nathan was an interesting lead, a character with quite a lot of depth and we did get to know him quite well throughout the narrative. Half Bad is written in the first person from Nathan’s perspective, he’s not a bad kid but he’s fast learning that all that is white is not good and there’s nothing he can do about it. His quest sees him learning there is more to his situation than he had believed but he’s not sure how that is going to help him in the long run. I became quite attached to Nathan and his struggle, I am looking forward to seeing how the series progresses.

Half Bad is an accomplished debut, an engaging story with some well drawn characters, Green’s society building shares many undesirable traits with ours and as such is quite a distressing social commentary. Though her world is not groundbreakingly unique she has done some quite unique things with it to set her story apart.

I received this book from Sainsbury’s in return for an honest review so let me also tell you a little about Sainsbury’s. They are a UK based eBook retailer with thousands of titles to choose from, there are even 1000 free ebooks that you can choose. Their product list is extensive, the shopping experience is simple and the website easy to navigate, also offering quite competitive pricing. Sainsbury’s books are compatible with most devices, unfortunately not Kindle, and there is a reading app downloadable from Sainsury’s for both Apple and Android products. I will definitely be heading back in for another shopping expedition one day when I have a little more time.

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