Half Bad refers to the title character Nathan's race. He was born to a Black Witch father and a White Witch mother. But he's an orphan, his father Marcus a nefarious witch that has been on the run for decades. And in this world, on your 17th birthday, if you're born a witch, you end up with special abilities, but the twist is, you need to drink the blood of a relative. A way some people get around this is find illegal blood donor samples sold in risky practices, which is what Nathan might have to do. He lives in Wales with his Gran, his brother Arran, and an annoyance named Jessica, as well as having a crush on a white witch named Annalise that shares the affection but she's part of a very dangerous family on his behalf. As Nathan grows older around this world, he can begin to tell his life was never his, and the only hope to ever become the witch he should've had the right to train to be is to...well...find his father? Find friends of his father? What's he to do?
With everything that takes place in this book, I’d say if I was in charge of it, it would be about 600 pages. It’s 200 less in Sally Green’s hands, but it still just feels like too much and too little at the same time. That might not make sense now, but you could say it's kind of like a big box of Goldfish with not enough flavour inside, or something like that. The slogan the book has: “Wanted by No One. Hunted by Everyone” is a little misleading. Nathan does end up hunted, but not for a big portion of the book.
I think I know why Sally Green chose this angle. An Ember in the Ashes would later do this too: She made the world seem inescapable and that if this character didn’t fight, he’d die. She made a world of dread, of misery, one where we are actually scared for the main character, not wanting him to get captured. But…how do I say this without sounding like a douchebag? I was more concerned about him getting captured because the book would just be even harder to get through than it already was, rather than what would happen to him.
The pacing feels off as well. For example, we are given a person Nathan has to find, but first there are about 150 pages without this situation coming to mind, and, in fact, a long long time passes. The fact Nathan resumes his search years after trying to start step one bugged me. And Nathan ends up escaping from a facility we really don’t want to have to see him go back to. I was even tense as I was with him trying to figure a way out. What happens next? A transition to the next ten days. What about the fear of recapture? What about the explosion of emotions about freedom after being locked up for so long? Nathan felt it, but he didn’t bother to say so. If you want to feel what a real prison escape feels like on your soul, read the wonderful Escape from Furnace series. The main character from that series was locked up less longer than Nathan, and yet he doesn't show any of the real senses. And when we find out a main character has died, we don’t feel the closure we want. Simply put, a million things happen, and by the time we've digested one thing, two more things have happened.
Some of these characters are a bit better than anticipated. I liked Annalise and though a woman who ends up Nathan’s guardian for a portion of the book angered me a bit as the book went on, she’s given some development that prevents her from being one-dimensional and we even see her ask wholeheartedly when she has to take him somewhere, “Are you going to bring him back?” like she’s learned to care about him even though his father did something to her way back when. That was a very sweet moment in the book.
But I couldn’t help but feel there could’ve been more room for the promise of magic and potions. I get that this sort of story is about Nathan receiving his powers rather than using them, as a kind of tool to transition to the next two books. But this world also has potions in them, and apart from one that can give pus-filled abscesses, I couldn’t remember any of them by the time the book was over. The Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy fell for this too: Having special powers to make it a fantasy but resorting to romance or life and not to the things it was marked as a dystopia for. And again, when that happens, it depends on if what we see is good enough for us to forgive the absence of that. Didn't work for me.
Half Bad sort of heats up after some slacking, given that it’s last act is pretty fast-paced in a good way, and it’s honestly a tense book that’s perhaps just a bad way of introduction. Despite the pace, the book’s annoying me caused it to be easy to put down. Thank goodness there’s more with the cliffhanger we’re given. If this was a standalone book, I might’ve given this a zero. But that’s obviously not enough for me to forgive and forget.
Sally Green's frightening world can't make up for a disappointing storyline plan, too-fast or too-slow writing, and the fact this doesn't feel like a fantasy.