A year ago, the first volume in a new YA supernatural trilogy was published. Many described Half Bad by Sally Green as Harry Potter for teenagers, but that’s doing it a disservice. If you read the blurb, which mentions witches a lot and being kept in a cage, it immediately makes you think of the broom cupboard under the stairs – but the cage in which the teenaged main protagonist and narrator Nathan Byrn is kept at the beginning of the story is anything but. There are some superficial similarities – The Ministry of Magic’s less benign aspects resemble Green’s Council of Witches, the Death-Eaters are certainly similar in some respects to the black witches here, but that’s as far as it goes. Potter may have been one inspiration, but in fact, Half Bad owes a lot more to Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy in style, for it is a gritty and violent adventure too, and Half Bad is perhaps the heir to the Twilight sequence with the battles between Green’s black and white witches rivalling those of Stephanie Meyer’s good vampires vs the Volturi and vampires vs werewolves.
In Nathan’s England, witches live amongst the normal folk, the ‘fain’, and the vast majority are white. Nathan’s mother was a white witch, his brother and sister too will become white witches when they reach seventeen. Nathan is different, his father was a black witch – he’s half and half by birth, a rarity and thus of special interest to the Council of Witches, who control all the white witches. Black witches are seen as murderous loners, who’d as soon dispatch their own kind as their enemies, the whites. The Council is totally intolerant of black witches, and would like to destroy them all.
In the first volume we found out about Nathan’s childhood, his mother’s death, his imprisonment and his escape to find his father in time to receive the three gifts and blood from an ancestor he needs to become a witch when he hits seventeen.
In Half Bad, most of Nathan’s time was spent with white witches – some of whom are very bad indeed! In Half Wild, the sequel, he spends most of his time with black witches – most of whom are more tolerant than you’d expect. Rather a role reversal.
You could leap in and read Half Wild, but you’re really better off starting at the beginning with Half Bad which, although it is a little more obviously YA, is full of interesting ideas and has many shocking scenes, revelations, twists and turns itself. Half Wild is definitely more grown-up and becomes a real thriller as the black witches and the white witch ‘Hunters’ chase each other all over Europe. There is a real feel of European witchcraft being something venerable and ancient and the upstart white Hunters emanating from England upsetting the apple-cart – a little bit of politics there!
Nathan is our first person narrator throughout. Half Wild opens with him waking up outside:
it’s a mobile phone, for sure it’s a mobile phone. The noise is in my head, not in my ears, it’s to the upper right side, inside, constant, like an electrical interference, pure hiss, mobile hiss, loud, three-or-four-metres-away- loud.
ok, right, lots of people have mobiles. If it’s a hunter, that hunter, and she could see me, I’d be dead by now.
i’m not dead.
she can’t see me.
The quote above is Nathan’s stream of consciousness butting in with this immediate style that gets you hooked straight away. Normal text is resumed after these interludes, although the entire book is written totally in the present tense which makes the action very intense. One thing is certain, you’re instantly on Nathan’s side – for a lad who could turn out to be the next Voldemort, so to speak, he appears to be a reliable narrator.
The supporting characters, who are almost exclusively witches are all developing nicely, from the accomplished luxury-loving Victoria Van Dal (black) and the Frenchman Gabriel (black) to Nathan’s first love Annalise (white). The central romance is to cause many problems as you might guess.
These books were great fun and I can’t wait for the concluding part of the trilogy Half Lost, next year.
Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books, and would prefer to be a black witch in Nathan’s world – they definitely have more ‘fun’!
Sally Green, Half Wild (Penguin: London, 2015). 978-0141350992, 404 pp., paperback original . Website: http://www.halfbadworld.com/