Friday, November 21, 2014

Half Bad Review

In anticipation for the release of its sequel, Half Wild, I will be reviewing the criminally under-read Half Bad today. 

Released just under a year ago, Half Bad created an enormous stir before it was even published.  There was a mad dash from publishers around the world to snap up the rights to it.  In fact, the book was sold to FORTY-TWO countries before it was even released, setting a new world record.  Oh yeah, and the movie rights were sold prior to the publication as well, to FOX 2000.  The book was being heralded as the new Harry Potter, the new Hunger Games! 

And then, the book kind of, sort of... flopped. 

What happened?! I'm not sure that I know.  Maybe not enough people were informed that they were supposed to read this book. Maybe readers legitimately were indifferent to it, and word-of-mouth failed to launch.  Whatever the case, it's a shame, because Half Bad deserves to be discussed, in my opinion.

The story follows Nathan, a teenage witch, who has been imprisoned because of his parentage.  In modern-day England, two races of witches loathe and despise each other, and Nathan happens to be a half-breed, with a Black Witch father and a White Witch mother.

It's been a year since I read the book, and I don't have a copy on me right now, so I'll have to write this review without going into specifics.  What I do remember from my first read-through, is that I couldn't put the book down, once it got rolling.  

The story starts out in with second person narration ("you") which is an interesting stylistic choice.  Eventually, the second person ceases, but unusual opening language lets the reader know that this book explores self-perception and identity.  

The book's a bildungsroman, in fact. (With a supernatural setting and a dash of action and adventure.) When we meet Nathan, he is locked in a cage like an animal.  He's been reduced, beaten down.  It is our pleasure, as readers, to see how Nathan rises from the ashes and creates his own identity, in spite of everyone in his world who has decided it for him.  Will he be good?  Will he be bad?  Or something in between? Some readers have called Nathan an iteration of Severus Snape, and the comparison is not off-target.

There is a great cast of supporting characters as well, who have impressive complexity, and aloof identities of their own.  There is Nathan's keeper, a fierce, militaristic woman who is much more than she seems.  A young man, with an elusive talent, who is much more than he seems.  A mysterious villain, (or is he a villain?) who is much more than he seems.  

The world building has a lot of potential for growth.  By this, I mean that the groundwork is there, but actual settings and details are sparse. This is my main complaint with the book.  It was hard to get a good visual in my mind's eye. Many people have drawn comparisons between this book and Harry Potter; a detailed setting is something that Sally Green could take away from J. K. Rowling's masterwork.  Hopefully, the sequel, Half Wild, will improve in this respect.

All in all, Half Bad is a YA book to pay attention to.  Green makes bold stylistic choices.  The book is readable, while still engaging complex concepts and themes. Characterizations are strong, with a compelling cast of nuanced players.  The setting could use some work, but has plentiful room for development.  You can be sure that I'll be reading Half Wild as soon as I get my hands on a copy.

4.5/5 north stars.


  1. Okay. So apparently, I've been living under a rock because I certainly have no clue about the hoopla this book has created prior to publishing! I'm going to take your word for it, Ellen and see how this one would make me feel. :)

    1. Right?! The only reason I was aware of the hullabaloo was because of another reviewer. I'm excited for you to read it!