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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Half Bad (Half Bad Trilogy #1) by Sally Green

Wanted by no one.
Hunted by everyone.

Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world's most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan's only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it's too late. But how can Nathan find his father when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?

Half Bad is an international sensation and the start of a brilliant trilogy: a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive.

Released: March 4th 2014    Pages: 394
Publisher: Viking Juvenile   Source: Library
First Look: ****At first I passed over this book--witches typically aren't my thing.  That entire section of the paranormal genre, actually, doesn't hold much appeal from me.*  After seeing a few highly positive reviews of this, though, I gave it a second look, and went for it.  Now I'm glad I did.

Setting: ****
For the most part, it's solid.  Other reviewers have criticized this aspect for being weaker than usual in this type of novel.  I can see where this is coming from--the setting leaves many questions unanswered.  How does the world of witches fit into the "Muggle" world?  How does the magic even work?  It's vague about many of the finer details of witches and their subculture.  While I completely agree with these points, I disagree that they are a weakness.  It's a book about magic and witches, yes, but the focus is on the character of Nathan more than anything else.  The witches are a backdrop for the character development, unlike something along the lines of Harry Potter, whose entire story revolves around the magic.  Here, though, it provides a medium through which to tell his story; the magic isn't the story itself.    

Characters: ****
We're first introduced to Nathan when he's very young. Already, he's what you would call a "troubled child".  And it only gets worse from there.  His characterization is complex, dark, and even a little off, in the sense that I spent much of the book thinking, "There's something not quite right with this kid."  This is the logical result of his environment, though--after being imprisoned and abused for most of his life, it wouldn't make sense for him to be a completely normal kid.  He's believable in a raw way that really made me feel for him.  He has a lighter side, though, which made me want him to succeed.  Like any kid, he just wants the love and respect of his parents, even though his father is the most notorious murderer of the witch world.

Other characters are fleshed-out as well, though not quite as well as Nathan.  It's hard to get a good sense of the other characters, since most of them are seen as villains or obstacles through Nathan's eyes.  Still, though, I got a good sense of their personalities.   

Plot: ***** 
The first half is compelling.  It's graphic and intense, but it certainly commands attention.  The author wastes no time introducing us to the darkest parts of Nathan's existence.  It took me a chapter or two to get the hang of what was happening, but I don't necessarily think this is a fault, since it's designed to be slightly disorienting.

The second half loses some steam, which seems to be another common criticism of this book.  It's true that I started to lose interest when Nathan was no longer a prisoner.  Part of this is probably due to the subject matter--whether it's real conflict or not, violence demands people's attention.  Still, though, the second half seemed to lose the intensity that I loved in the first half.  Don't get me wrong; I still enjoyed it, but I just enjoyed it less.       

Uniqueness: ****
It's a book about witches, and when you start throwing that word around in YA fiction, everyone's brain goes straight to Harry Potter.  (Well, everyone except mine, it seems.  I don't see Harry Potter as the be-all, end-all of...well, anything.)  Half Bad is nothing like Harry Potter, though.  They both involve witches, but that's where the similarities end.  Half Bad, like I mentioned before, is more about Nathan's abuse and characterization than anything else.

Writing: ****
The beginning is disjointed, but in the best way possible.  There is some shifting between second and third person narration, deliberately making it hard to figure out what's going on.  It's chaotic, but it reflects Nathan's life and mental state.  It's been a turn-off for many reviewers, but I loved it.  It gave the story a weird, intense, dark feeling (and isn't that all I ever want from a book?).  After the first few chapters, the writing becomes more normal, but still maintains its pace and intensity.  It's not for the faint of heart--Sally Green doesn't shy away from graphic descriptions of Nathan's abuse.  Parts might be hard to read, but it's all part of the overall well-told story.

Likes: N/A

Not-so-great: N/A

Overall: Half Bad is a somewhat unusual addition to the fantasy/paranormal genres.  For once, the magic takes a backseat to the characterization, and becomes more of a backdrop than a main focus.  I love what this does for the book--it helps create Nathan's complexity and darkness.  It's graphic, and it's intense, but also thought-provoking.  My only major criticism is that the second half is slower and less compelling than the first.  Still, though, it's definitely worth a read.

Similar Books: It has so much in common with Charm & Strange--its dark intensity, troubled main character, hint of the paranormal, and writing style.  Its tone reminds me of The Magicians, and it is strangely reminiscent of The Raven Boys, though I'm not sure why.

*Then again, this is coming from the girl who posts Supernatural GIFs all the time.
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