Before I even start telling you what I think about Half Bad, let me tell you how much I love the cover. I’m no designer, so I’m not going to try to tell you why I like it, but the black and white and red and silver, the smoky, liquidy face, the upsidedowniness – well, obviously, soon as I saw it I couldn’t keep my hands off it. Very nice work, Tim Green. You even put what would have been the back cover blurb in the first place I looked for it.
And the book itself? What we have is a boy witch, Nathan, with a Black Witch (i.e. bad) father and a White Witch (i.e. good) mother, both absent. Black Witches are outcasts and we’re waiting to see if Nathan is going to turn out Black or White (you can’t be both). Trouble is, the White Witches rule and they think any methods are justifiable when it comes to keeping the Black Witches down, no matter how cruel or arbitrary or violent. And they don’t trust Nathan.
I wasn’t convinced I was going to like Half Bad to start off with. It begins in the second person (you) and that’s pretty hard to read. For most of the book it switches back to first person (I), though there are occasional bursts of second person. Why? I wondered. It’s unsettling to do this. The author must want to unsettle me. I think the point is that in the second person bits, you’re brought even more into Nathan’s head than in first person bits. It’s not him telling you about what happens to him, it’s you experiencing it, like an avatar in a game. And these parts are very physical. You experience what it’s like to be Nathan.
Get past the oddness of the narration-switch, and Half Bad is a cracking read. Tad too much close-your-eyes violence for my taste, but pacy and surprising with a convincing alternate witch world. The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is that I thought the ending was too open. I could have done with a few more things being tied up and little less of the ‘now wait a year for the next book in the series’. It’s probably just me. (You can read more about what I think about endings here: http://mybookpage.tumblr.com/post/80072284425/dont-forget-the-ending). This happens in so many books lately that I suspect most people think it’s the way things should be. And I’ll be right at the front of the queue for the sequel, Half Wild, out in March.
Shortlisted for the YA Book Prize 2015