Author: Sally Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Bookshelves: Recipe-for-awesomesauce, More-please, Fantasy-pr-everything-untoward
There are books with frightening, mind-fuck, magical, ingenious individual components that fail to impress, because they don’t merge seamlessly with each other. The stories they try to tell are new yet they seem rote, because the cogs are way too big to fit inside a book, and they don’t mesh well. A house with too many bookshelves, beds and other miscellaneous pieces of antique, lacquered and/or just-goddarn-expensive furniture. You may never have enough books but there’s something as too fucking many bookshelves, especially when you don’t have anything to decorate them. It becomes a dysfunctional magic box, the snake could pop out any moment, when all you want is a simple, pleasing music box.
Then there’s Half Bad.
At a glance, it’s a tad trite, overdone story; the characters make you think; the atmosphere makes you feel; at a glance, it’s a mildly interesting story that could be spectacular, but wouldn’t count on it. The story playing out is of a kid, a kid beaten and helpless and cursed and thrown stones because his father is evil. His mother killed herself; his sister abhors and tortures him; his blood is despised, he is despised. Because his father is evil. And the evilness runs in the blood.
This story in not spectacular, nor original. Original is magic gay fish, fought pirate kids hopped on sugar to save a lighter, and met a woman impregnated by a butterfly. And still weirder shit.
Yet Half Bad was exquisite. I read it and it was exquisite, and it’s so fucking stupid to compare it with the spectacular books, because they are ALL awesome, but THIS one is exquisite. It’s exquisite when the characters run around in the atmosphere, when they make you think and feel and all the rest, and the story now seems so new, so original, so unlike any other story. Because of the voice, because of the hills and lakes and cold and greenery and the cage, because of the chase and hunt and eagles in the sky.
Because even with witches and Three Gifts and potions and super powers, it isn’t a very magical book.
This was one of the aspects that was most beguiling to me: despite the atmosphere and tribulations of witches infusing the background, magic is never taken for granted. That magic is ONLY the background, the aim and the bathroom fixtures. Because Half Bad isn’t a story about magic and superpowers or defeating evil; it’s the story of a boy who might be half bad, who just wants freedom and a house by the lake with his mum and dad and brother and the girl he loves. Heh, it could be considered akin to a Russian classic, or somewhat like The Count of Monte Cristo.
The theme of nature vs nurture and the separating threads between good(the White Witches) and evil(the Black Witches) are rampant in Half Bad, but since it’s through the story of Nathan, who believes he has an evil body but a good heart, whose main objective is to survive and focus on the present, few questions are asked directly. More and more is given to ruminate upon in actions and characters: in Celia who’s White and straddles the line between good and bad; Arran, White, who definitely lounges in the good section; and Kieran, who’s White and most certainly vile; Rose, who might as well have been a Black Witch. I thought a lot about what makes a Black Witch, besides their bloodline, because it is obviously not a desire to do good by others. In fact, Ms Green never mentions in print what were the exact crimes of Black Witches, except Nathan’s father and Mercury who eats little boys and makes slaves of little girls.
Nathan was a fabulous MC who grows up from the kid wanting to show everyone he can be good to the one who can’t decide IF he wants to be good, going by the actions of the people who claim to be good. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but he’ll fight if he has to. Yet he won’t kill. He steals and he hurts and he lies, and he cries. For his fantasies and lost dreams and the people he won’t meet again and the tortures he’s faced- whose number and intensity increased as the pages went by. He reminds of Rudy from Teeth a bit, and I can’t pinpoint exactly what. I think it’s the desperation in both their voices, and that they’re not exactly amiable. I don’t know, but I love them both.
One observation I made was that Half Bad read more and more like a prolonged torture story. Very gruesome and detailed and unflinching. And I was so very fascinated. I balked, yes, because I cared for Nathan but seriously? Even while I hated it all, these were the parts I read with the most verve. I’m so fucked up.
If you’re looking for a detailed story with a an obvious or confounding plot, this isn’t it. The plot doesn’t stick out like a maze seen from up above in the sky; the plot is that Nathan wants to unshackle himself and get the Three Gifts every witch is due on their seventeenth birthday. A larger conspiracy? A threat to doom the world? Once chance to save it? Prophecy that could change the course of time and history and future? Nada.
But if you want an exquisite book, I suggest you give Half Bad a whirl.
Sally Green has me
(with the last line(albeit I hated it a bit))
Except… I’m not the biggest fond of the ending. It was extremely abrupt and hurried. Cliffhanger, no, instead more like the last scene of the cliffhanger with large paragraphs eliminated. Also, I wasn’t much pleased with the romance- what little there was- especially all the bits surrounding Annalise. These are the reasons I deducted a half star from my original four and a half. However, I’m really interested in finding more about her as an individual, instead of the girl of Nathan’s fantasies.
Anywho, Half Life #2:
Many thanks to Viking Juvenile for providing a review copy.
Yep, so going there.