Nathan, small and scrawny, cannot read or write. He’s always dirty. He hates being indoors and is happiest on a mountainside sleeping under the full moon. His older sister hates him, his Gran constantly worries about him, and he’s just been excluded from school. Oh, and he’s also a witch.
In this debut from former-accountant-turned-ridiculously-successful-writer Sally Green, Nathan is the hero who really shouldn’t be. Opening up with him trying to flee from captivity by allowing his hand to be burnt off with acid, this book challenges every notion of what YA is, or should be.
This isn’t romantic, but there is a love story. It is fantasy, but you could use it as an illustration of the political spectrum. It is first person, but the voice is one you want to hear.
Using the best bits of all the best YA fantasy novels of the past thirty years, but being completely incomparable with all of them (and for God’s sake ignore the Twilight comparison the publisher is trying to ram down your throat on the press release because this is to Twilight what ghee is to lard) Half Bad is set in a world very much like Harry Potter’s, with fains and witches, who live side by side without really becoming involved with each other. The ‘witch’ side of the world (no goblins or fairys yet) is made up of the authoritarian White witches, who are in control, and the anarchical Black witches, who apparently live to kill themselves and White witches, and keep no laws.
Nathan is a half-breed of Black and White, and treated like scum by most of the community. His father was the most evil Black witch ever, and he is at the mercy of the council of White witches, and their brute squad, the dreaded Hunters.
What makes this book so utterly remarkable is how real Nathan is. I’ve worked in education for a good few years now, and I’ve met many many Nathans, seen as no good by society and basically left to fend (badly) for themselves. There were parts of this book set in school where I was nodding my head along with what happens to Nathan and how he reacts to the pressures he is put under. This book would make excellent class reading and I can see every teacher and school librarian getting very very excited by it, in a similar vein to the love shown to Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, which is a fair better comparison if they need something to link it to in the promo material. A copy should be sent to every PRU in the country, Nathan’s story rings true.
This is also a very British book. It is gritty, the magic is centred on nature and our heritage and it reminded me in places very much of Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series. The violence is very very violent, so younger readers or the squeamish might get upset by it, but no more so than Michael Grant’s Gone series, for example, or the later Harry Potters.
Beautifully structured, with a voice that grows over time to a thrilling (if a little disjointed) ending this is the first in a series which I pray doesn’t go bad. I also note with nail-biting horror the film rights have been picked up by the Twilight/Percy Jackson people, which is such a shame as this should be a really nasty mini-series if anything.
I cannot recommend this book enough. I read it in four hours, with occasional breaks to tweet about how much I was loving it, and if you are a reader, or the parent of a reader, pre-order. Half Bad is out on the 3 March globally and I can guarantee will be a blockbuster. I’m just so very chuffed to have a YA blockbuster I can fully get behind. Wonderful stuff, and it has been a while since I’ve read a fantasy YA I can promote this strongly.