Review: Half Bad by Sally Green (Half Life #1)

EBOOK, 417 P.
PENGUIN, 2014
SOURCE: FROM THE PUBLISHER VIA NETGALLEY

Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy’s struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.
Easy.

Having been positively surprised by Cinder, I decided to bite the bullet and read a second YA fantasy novel in a row. Half Bad is also Sally Green’s debut novel and the first part in the Half Life trilogy. This book has received a lot of praise both online and in the press, and I’ve also spotted the Finnish translation of the book prominently displayed in bookshops. The cover definitely draws in your attention invites you to pick it up and read the blurb. And according to the Guinness World Records, Half Bad is the “Most Translated Debut Book, pre-publication”. Hence you can probably guess why I was excited that Netgalley had a galley that you could request for review.

Half Bad is a story of Nathan, a young witch trapped in a cage. At least that’s what where we encounter him first, listening in on his thoughts as he goes through the motions of his prisoned life, watching and plotting for escape. You don’t really know why he is in there or who is keeping him, but slowly you get more glimpses of his life before the cage. Nathan lives in a society where there are white witches and black witches, and the latter are evil. The white witches run the secret witch society, organise their training, and supervise the Half Codes, who are half black and half white. Nathan is a Half Code, which means that instead of leading a nice and comfortable childhood like his other siblings, he has to go through yearly examinations, and his freedom is limited. And it’s all because of his notorious father who he has never met.

I had relatively high expectations for Half Bad, simply because I’d heard so much praise for it. From the first page, I realised that Sally Green’s debut novel isn’t a straight-forward one and that it employs some very clever and interesting storytelling techniques. As a reader you experience the pain and trouble that Nathan has to go through, which means that simultaneously you begin to feel for him as a character. However, Nathan is not the most likeable character out there and as the story progresses, you begin to question whether Nathan is good or bad – white or black. Similarly, Green subtly makes you question the order held by the white witches – in hunting down the black witches, the whites take no hostages. The world of Half Bad is not just black and white, but mostly grey.

The beginning part of Half Bad had me first confused and then interested, but as I read on, my interest levels started to slowly drop. The story seemed to be flitting around too much and towards the end, I could clearly see that the book was a first part of a trilogy from the way it seemed to be stalling at the end. There’s much promise in Sally Green’s writing and the ideas behind the story are fascinating, but I just didn’t click with the story. The story is at times quite gritty and gory, which I personally didn’t mind, but I wouldn’t recommend it to younger readers. However, I do recommend Half Bad to everyone who enjoys a bit more experimental young adult books and books that make you to doubt what the characters are telling you. In that Sally Green is world-class.

3.5/5

I thought that exile meant you had to leave your country and you could go anywhere–somewhere in the sun, a tropical island, say, or America. But exile doesn’t mean that; it means you are banished to a specific place, and guess what, that place isn’t in the sun and is no paradise, it’s not even America. It’s some cold, miserable place like Siberia, where you don’t know anyone and you can barely survive. It’s another prison.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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