Warning: Cliffhanger (Why does the author hate me?)
In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and sixteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his seventeenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?
In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.
“The trick is not to mind.
Not to mind about it hurting.
Not to mind about anything.”
This is one hell of a read. Half bad is the start to a really fucked up world in which black and white witches hate each other with a passion fueled by millenia of killing each other. This is not a nice, happy world where only good things happen, like in most young adult series. Bad things can and do happen. The first time I read this, I spent a large portion of it sobbing uncontrollably. The second time I read this, this time I’m writing the review on, I spent a decent portion of it weeping quietly.
Our main character, Nathan, had a bad, but tolerable life while living with his grandmother. And then he gets taken away. He has a normal teenage crush, before her brother torture him. He has a normal, unjustified incarceration, before the council decides to make it worse. While you may think Nathan’s life starts off bad, it still has much further to fall than you would expect. Nathan is a bit of a brat at times, but it is understandable. He hates authority, he tries to constantly wiggle out from the rules he has been placed under. Honestly, he is basically just a creature who just wants to survive at times.
We also meet a variety of people in this series. His Grandma, who is his guardian, is sweet but understands the hardships Nathan is going through. His brother, and the younger sister, who are kind to him, because he is their brother and they know no one else is going to be kind to him. The older sister who absolutely hates his guts and wants nothing than to be allowed to kill him. There is the love interest who is a bitch and refuses to listen or see reason because she is so self absorbed in her own life she can’t see the suffering of others, who she claims to like. A variety of enemies who treat him in a range of ways from “like a human being” all the way down to “less than a slug”.
And then there is Gabriel. Gabriel isn’t in much of the book, he doesn’t even show up until about the last quarter of the book. However, Gabriel becomes the friend Nathan desperately needs. He becomes more than a friend, he becomes a make-up brother. He becomes a sort of mentor. He almost becomes a confidant. He becomes many things, but it is is clear that Gabriel has worked his way into Nathan’s heart by the end. And one last thing: Gabriel is gay.
All things considered, the world-building wasn’t anything particularly new or unique. You’ve probably seen this tale play out again and again. Two factions who both believe the other is evil, who have been fighting against each other for generations. All while the masquerade is in place and those not in the know (in this series, called “fains”) cannot find out, though some of them do. The reason this type of world-building sticks around though is because it works. The author isn’t overly concerned about fitting something new in all the time. There is the one thing (witches), who have two factions (black and white), who are all able to specialise in one of a range of abilities that both factions can take from when they turn 17.
I really enjoy this book. For a start to a young adult series, it is dark and depressing and just really well put together. Plus, books that make me cry always have a soft spot in my heart.
To read more reviews for this series, check out the Half Bad series page!