Review Blog

Apr 15 2014

Half bad by Sally Green

cover image

Penguin, 2104. ISBN: 9780141350868.
Themes: Good vs Evil; Witchcraft/Magic; Coming-of Age. The author uses the Shakespearean quote from Hamlet, 'There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so', as an opening epigraph. This book is about witches - White or Black. The epigraph perhaps introduces the idea that witches may be either good or bad depending on how you view them. Perhaps setting aside the idea a 'rotten apple' is rotten even if there are portions of it that look good, this book focuses on the Witch world that lives alongside our own 'fain' world. The central character, Nathan, is in the unfortunate position of living as a barely literate half-caste witch, but with an extremely notorious absent father who is a Black Witch that has been viewed badly by Nathan's own family and the wider White witch community. The approaching Gifting ceremony to mark Nathan's passage to Witch status at the age of 17 is the focus of the narrative and its twists and curls. Magic is present, but almost understated. This is a coming-of-age story, with family dramas involving abuse of the one who doesn't fit the norm, a little forbidden romance, combined with a quest to find the absentee father who deliberately remains in obscurity. The book begins with short 'snapshot' chapters looking at various circumstances of the captive life of the main character. This is intriguing, but may create some confusion for an immature reader. It does require a little persistence to reach the stage of the book where the narrative becomes more straightforward and chronological in its style. Perhaps this is part of the 'magic' of the book.
I am sure this book will appeal to some in the YA female market. The central character allows us to see the world through his eyes, and consequently the abuse and hardships he suffers will elicit sympathy in his female readers. A male readership may find the central character to be too 'soft' and controlled in some of his responses although there is still teenage/witch angst expressed.
As a reviewer I need to declare my Christian world view may have tainted my impressions of this book. I have also resisted Twilight reading or viewing and other Dark Worlds literature, so I came to a book about Black and white witches and a central male character who is Half black and Half white witch with some reservation. The concept of evil, and how persuasive it can be, may be drawn from the text. Even some of the 'good' characters and those in authority (where power is corrupted for their own ends) cannot resist inflicting hardship and violence on each other. The author does temper this with some 'gentler' more caring relationships and friendships that go beyond the expectations of the witch world.
Carolyn Hull

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