Wednesday, 1 October 2014

'Half Bad' (Half Life #1) by Sally Green

*This review will contain spoilers!*

'Half Bad' tells the story of Nathan Byrn, a Half Code (meaning half White Witch and half Black Witch) whose father is the most notorious Black Witch who exists and whose mother kills herself before the start of the novel. Nathan's father has absconded, due to being hunted by the Council, whose job is to capture and torture Black Witches, usually resulting in their deaths, as a way to protect White Witches from harm. As a Half Code Nathan is worried that he will not be able to receive three gifts on his seventeenth birthday, which is problematic because Black Witches die if they do not experience their Giving ceremony.
I have been eager to read 'Half Bad' since it was released back at the start of March and, while it wasn't exactly what I was expecting, I also wouldn't describe myself as being disappointed.
One of the first things that surprised me about 'Half Bad' was that Part One is told in the second person, before Part Two jumps into first person narrative. There are a few other examples of this switch throughout, but that is definitely the most prominent one of them, however as it occurs so early towards the start of the book it made it quite difficult to get into. It was an unusual choice and it was well-executed, but it wasn't particularly my cup of tea.
Similarly, the sheer amount of Gifts that were on choice was overwhelming and seemingly endless. Off of the top of my head, the Gifts ranged from: transformation, shooting fire out of your hands, stopping time, controlling the weather, a invisibility mist, healing, potions, a creepy mind-screaming noise and mind-reading. But it seemed to be that every time I thought I'd been exposed to the full range of Gifts on offer another one just popped up out of nowhere. It is good to have surprises throughout the book, but it might have been better if there had been a section of the novel where Nathan could have described all of the currently known Gifts, so more could later be discovered but it wouldn't be getting to the stage where there were a crazy amount of things to keep track of.
Another complaint about the novel was that it felt like a lot of questions were being left unanswered, or only vaguely answered, but knowing that this is part of a trilogy some of those answers could be coming in the later books. I just couldn't stop wondering why Nathan was so uneducated and unable to read; is that because he's a Black Witch, or because of a different reason? Him and Gabriel touched upon it later on so it seemed like it could be a characteristic of Black Witches, but then Gabriel can read absolutely fine so that wouldn't have worked. Also, it seemed to be touched upon a few times that Nathan was the only Half Code, but that wasn't completely confirmed. If he is, it does seem like the Council was going to way too much effort with the Notifications for just one boy, but he is the son of the most powerful Black Witch who exists so I guess you can't be too careful. Similarly, can Witches ever die from old age? The only deaths we experienced were murders or suicides, so is that even possible? And where was the novel mostly set? We had sections in Scotland, Wales, London and Liverpool, but there's no information about where Nathan was born and grew up (unless I missed that when I was reading, but it would be a big thing to just pass over).
My only other problem was that all of the way through the book Nathan would "throw a few swear words in there too" or "curse" but then at just one singular instance in the book he said "F***!". It could have been really effective if it had been uncensored, but as it was censored it just seemed like an unnecessary addition.
Other than those problems I absolutely adored this book, so much so that the problems hardly lessened my enjoyment of it at all. I can't ever remember reading a novel about Witches that I've liked as much as this one. It seemed really original and, despite the fact that it was obviously based on racism with the Blacks versus the Whites, the subject matter was handled delicately and very well, meaning I kept thinking of it being quite similar to 'Noughts and Crosses' by Malorie Blackman (which is another novel that plays with the conventions of racism but still tackles the problem straight at the heart). I just found that 'Half Bad' really made me think about the meanings of good and bad. Were the Whites good because they were doing things with the best of intentions, or is any type of killing inexcusable? Were the Blacks automatically bad because they were murderers, or can anything be forgiven if there is a good enough reason behind the actions?
It was a quote from Mary, the elderly White Witch and ex-Council member who Nathan visits on her birthday, that really made me think. "[White Witches] were are bad as Black Witches, as bad as fains, as bad as them all." Good and bad is all so subjective; there are two sides to every story, so the people hearing the Whites side of the story will automatically be prejudiced to the Blacks and vice versa.
I can't wait for the second novel in the Half Life trilogy, 'Half Wild', to be released at some point next year. The novel ends on a massive cliffhanger and I can't wait to see which characters Nathan goes on to reacquaint himself with in the future. There isn't a single character I don't want to read more about: Gabriel, Ellen, Arran, Deborah... Even Jessica in her own special way. Sally Green has written an amazing debut novel and I can't wait to experience more of her work soon.

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