Paperback, 384 pages.
Release date: March 3rd 2014.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Source: Received from publisher for review.
Reviewed by: Liz from Planet Print.
In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and sixteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his seventeenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves In the tradition of Patrick Ness and Markus Zusak, Half Bad is a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive, a story that will grab hold of you and not let go until the very last page.
Nathan is a Half Code; half White Witch, half Black Witch. His mother was a White Witch with a strong healing Gift, but his father is one of the most powerful, most evil Black Witches ever to have existed, and the Council of White Witches is hunting him down. All his life, Nathan has been monitored and confined - even kept in a cage. Nobody trusts him, and the Council is afraid of his potential power. The only people who don't seem him as a monster are his brother and sister, Arran and Deborah, and Gran. But Nathan's seventeenth birthday is drawing ever closer, and so is his Giving ceremony, which will mark him a full Witch. According to all the stories Nathan has heard, if Black Witches don't receive the three gifts in the ceremony, they could die - and it doesn't seem like the Council is ever going to give Nathan the three gifts. Nathan is determined to have his Giving, even if it means becoming a hunted Witch like his father. This is the story of Nathan's childhood, his survival, and his education about good and bad - nothing is ever black and white.
I really enjoyed Half Bad. Honestly, I was pretty much intrigued by the first page, which was a quote from Hamlet, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." That quote pretty much sums up the whole book. Following Nathan's life and everything he had been through made it clear that the White Witches, who were supposedly "good", were often cruel and violent and unforgiving, and that Black Witches weren't always "bad", but were persecuted without even being given a chance. Nathan had suffered so much; every time the Council issued a new Notification, the laws governing Half Codes became more stringent until eventually Nathan was removed from his family and practically imprisoned by the Council who wanted to use him a weapon to kill his father. I really liked Nathan and felt so bad for him. He was just a boy when the first Notifications started, when he was ostracised by other White Witches, when his own half-sister Jessica told him it was his fault their mother died. He never even learnt to read or write. He was very close to his brother Arran (who was a character I adored because he clearly cared for his brother so much and didn't care who his father was despite all the terrible things he'd done), and he loved his Gran and Deborah too, but that was all taken away from him. Nothing ever went right for him and he'd never even done anything wrong. The Council eventually forced him to train in the middle of nowhere with only a woman named Celia, where he was kept in a cage, and even she tried to prevent what they planned to do with him next.
Celia was actually a pretty interesting character. I can't say I liked her, but I think she was growing more attached to Nathan than she intended. They were confined together for so long that even she objected when the Council showed up with no notice to take Nathan away. Though I have to say, apart from Nathan, my favourite character was probably Arran. I had this horrible feeling throughout the book that something really awful would happen to him which would spark Nathan to attack the Council or something, but the book went down a different route (though I am still terrified Arran will die in book two and I don't think I could take it). I also really liked Gabriel, who was a guy Nathan met in the latter half of the book, and was one of the few people he trusted. They became quick friends, and Gabriel had an interesting backstory and his own reasons for asking help from Mercury (a Black Witch who aided Witches in need - for a price). He was also in love with Nathan (I am rooting for him), though Nathan was in love with a White Witch named Annalise, who he'd known since childhood. Annalise was okay, I quite liked her, but her brothers were hunting Nathan and honestly, the two didn't really know each other that well, so I'm Team Gabriel for this one, however hopeless it may be. Other characters I really liked were Rose, and also Ellen who I really hope we get to see more of in book two.
Plot-wise and writing-wise, the book was organised in a weird way. The first few pages were in second person which sort of confused me at first, and then there was a time jump to the past to explain how Nathan had ended up where he was in the first part. Overall I think it worked and I liked seeing Nathan go from childhood days to present. I wasn't too sure why the second person was included, but I didn't hate it. I also liked how though his circumstances kept changing, Nathan's plan was essentially always the same; get his three gifts on his seventeenth birthday and try to find his father. I was a little lost as to why he was so desperate to see his father when he knew that he was supposed to be a ruthless killer, but then after the way the Council treated him and after finding out more about him I guess it was understandable. After the way things ended, I am definitely excited for Half Wild, which is the second book in the series, though I am lamenting the fact that it's not out until 2015!
Overall, Half Bad was a really enjoyable read and I definitely recommend it to people who like darker stories about witches and survival.