half bad

Half Bad by Sally Green

I always approach fantasies that are supposed to be the “Next Big Thing” with a lot of caution.  But this one is a wonderful surprise.  Nathan lives in a cage outside of the house where the woman paid to keep him lives.  He is let out of his shackles at dawn, forced to run for miles, train in combat, and kept close to home by wristbands filled with acid that will detonate if he goes too far.  Nathan is a witch.  But that is not why he is in a cage.  He is in a cage because he is a mix of white witch and black witch and worse, he is the son of the most notorious black witch of all time.  The white witches who keep Nathan imprisoned are training him to kill his father.  Through a series of flashbacks, Nathan’s childhood and the abuse he suffers from the white witches is exposed.  The question quickly becomes who the bad guys really are and how Nathan can survive in a world where no one trusts half of him.

Set in an alternative England where witches are real and in a constant battle for power, Nathan is trapped not just in a cage but also in between the two powerful factions.  The writing here is wonderfully clean and clear, even when it turns to violence which it does often.  Thanks to the quality of the writing, the moral questions shine on the page, clearly linking this witch world to the various moral questions at play in our own world.  Yet this does not become overbearing at all, since the world is compellingly built.

The characters are also well done.  While the “white” and “black” labels designate the factions, the question of good and evil goes much deeper.  Nathan is an exceptional protagonist.  He is complex and both in his character and the world, nothing is simple.  As he learns the truth about his parents, his family and himself, his reactions are honest, violent and superbly done.

This book is worthy of all of the fanfare it has received, but the reason to read it is to enter the violent world of witches where everyone is at least half bad.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.