Half Bad by Sally Green (#1 in the Half Life trilogy) (Penguin, 27 March 2014)
Half Bad is an intriguing, though rather slow, start to a fantasy trilogy that promises to explore morality and what makes us good or bad.
White Witches are good. Black Witches are evil. Black Witches kill. White Witches hunt them down, torture them and kill them. That’s the way the world works, and Nathan is the son of the strongest and most notorious Black Witch in the world. But Nathan is half White, too. And that’s where things get complicated. That’s how Nathan ends up living in a cage.
I think the most important thing to note is that the writing style in Half Bad is just not my cup of tea at all. It’s very sparse and simple. Short and blunt sentences. Nothing particularly descriptive or evocative. I wasn’t drawn in. I wasn’t living the story.
But that’s very much a me thing. I understand that in a way, the writing style is very fitting for the narrator. This is how Nathan thinks. Nathan is illiterate, and he’s also been through a lot of pain and abuse and torture. It makes sense that his thoughts are like this. I recognise it’s a good stylistic choice, but that doesn’t mean I personally find it enjoyable to read.
I also didn’t feel like much happened for most of the book. I was a little bored, and I didn’t care that much about any of the characters. The beginning was actually really intriguing and strange and it’s spectacularly different from anything I’ve ever read. Nothing much is revealed at first and it takes a while to piece together the fragments of Nathan’s life, his past and present. It’s very slow, and the wonder and curiosity I felt at the beginning soon faded.
It’s also frustrating because I love worldbuilding and we don’t get a fantastic amount of that in this book. We get a very limited sense of what the world is like through Nathan’s eyes. It’s our world, in the present day, but it’s a world where witches exist. And I didn’t really feel either of these things enough. There’s a story, and it’s floating around somewhere. It just isn’t very anchored in any physical place. The book talks about London and Wales and Scotland and Geneva but really, I swear we could be anywhere and the book would still be the same. We hardly learnt anything about the witches as a whole community. I wanted more history and background and setting.
So many aspects of the book feel somewhat vague and underdeveloped to me. However, I kept reading. I found there was enough promise in the plot to make me keep turning the pages, and I’m glad I did. The last 30% of the book propelled it into something a lot more enjoyable.
Gabriel happened. This new character walked into the story with his sunglasses and his books and his conversation and quietly became Nathan’s friend and suddenly everything had so much more life and warmth and interest. Then EVERYTHING WAS HAPPENING. And then, BAM, the book ended. It was a whirlwind of an ending. The pace picked up a lot and Nathan was changing into something more fascinating to read about.
I’m very much looking forward to reading the second book, Half Wild, which is how you know that somehow, I ended up liking Half Bad a lot more than I would have expected even halfway through the book.