Book Review: HALF BAD

PrintE-mail Written by Adam Starkey

Review: Half Bad / Author: Sally Green / Publisher: Penguin Books / Release Date: March 3rd

With a launch in 36 countries and the film rights already in the hands of Fox, the publishing world seems to be preparing for a cuckoo reaction to the debut novel from Sally Green, a former accountant whose sharply written tale about a society of witches residing in Britain contains all the ingredients for a fantastical smash hit. Brilliantly paced with more than a few nasty surprises, Half Bad is a wickedly addictive read that will capture the imagination of any fan of YA fiction.

The hero is Nathan, a 15 year-old who is locked in a cage, bound by shackles, exposed to the elements and slowly running out of escape plans. As a witch of mixed parentage, he's hunted by black and white witches, both seeking to create a singular and ‘pure’ race by eradicating the existence of the other. In this world of seemingly clear divides, he is the anomaly. The witch who is “wanted by no one; hunted by everyone.”

This is how we are introduced to Half Bad in its spectacular opening chapters, dragged kicking and screaming into Nathan’s shoes as he struggles to cope in his caged life with a vigorous daily exercise regime. Green takes you through his journey before and beyond, revealing a dark world filled with memorable characters and twisted family relations.

The societal themes may sound familiar, but Half Bad manages to dodge genre fatigue through the snappy and entertaining voice of its central character. Green’s direct and efficient prose jets you along, delivering a story that gallops from one thrilling encounter to the next and creating a world of wicked witches that feels fast and surprisingly uncompromising. These aren’t the croaky broomstick-riding hags you’ve come to expect, neither are they highly romanticized beings caught up in love triangles; these are cold and ruthless sorcerers who pack a serious punch.

It’s this dark, peppy spirit that sets the book apart from its contemporaries. Whenever the story delves into gruesome territory, Green isn’t afraid to twist the knife, and you might be surprised by some of the wince-inducing scenes of torture and scraps that occur over the books entirety. But this isn’t a bleak trip – quirky characters colour the world, and although you might crave a little more detail surrounding the bigger picture, the energy and charm is more than enough to keep you totally absorbed.

While the final verdict on Half Bad will depend upon the impact of the planned future instalments in the series, as a debut novel it is still a remarkably enjoyable read. Many have tipped it as doing for witches what Twilight achieved for vampires, but that seems like a great disservice to author Sally Green. Half Bad is edgy, imaginative and worth the attention of any fan of fictional thrill rides. A sure fire contender for the wickedest witch this side of the west.

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