Monday, 7 April 2014

Kim's Review : Half Bad

You can't read, can't write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You've been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you've got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Half Bad is the latest book (first part of a planned trilogy) to be smashing the young adults charts. It has been likened to "The Hunger Games" and a dark-as-hell "Harry Potter" meeting "The Bourne Identity". The accountant turned author of Half Bad - Sally Green has been dubbed the inheritor to Stephenie Meyer’s crown and the new J K Rowling.

Is all this high praise from papers as reputed as the UK Times and The Metro worth it? Most definitely, "YES"!

The first chapter is a bit bewildering, it doesn't make sense initially, so you are forced to read further and before you know it, you are completely sucked in and hooked onto the story and the book ends without any sense of closure, leaving you in breathless anticipation for part 2 - "Half Wild"

16 year old Nathan is an anomaly - a half code - born of a black witch father and a white witch mother - in a modern day England where humans (fains) and witches co-exist. White witches are good, black witches are evil and his father is the most evil of them all. Persecuted by both sides, when he turns 17, he needs to receive three gifts from a blood relative before he can become a witch in his own right. If he doesn't, he will die. Since his mother dies when he was a child and his grandmother too, his only hope is his father. But he has never seen or met him in his entire life and a prophecy could be to blame.

The council which governs the witching world, treats him with extreme suspicion that even leads to torture and imprisonment.

Will Nathan receive his gifts in time?
What is in store for his future?
Will he be a black witch or a white witch?
Are black witches really evil?
Are white witches really good?
What is the prophecy that keeps his father from meeting him?

The tale unfolds at a breakneck pace and keeps the reader completely hooked. Sally Green is a brilliant writer. The only other author I think who has moved at a faster pace is Samantha Shannon's - Bone Season.

Given that this book too is set in London, its obvious to try and draw parallels between Bone Season or the Harry Potter Series.  However, there are no wands, magic schools, brooms or owls in this book on witches.

Sally Green started writing in her 40's and says that she had never written anything in her life before that. However, the fast pace of Young Adult Fiction seemed ideally suited to her writing style (which she discovered when taking a course on Creative Writing).

To help imagine the darker world of Half Bad, she returned to her own teenage reading, which featured victims of persecution such as Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Albert Camus, so its no surprise that Nathan's favourite story is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Nathan's character however, is inspired by troubled teen Holden Caulfield from J D Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye"

Green's characters are well fleshed out, its obviously easy to sympathise and empathise with Nathan, but its also easy to see why the other characters behave the way that they do.

Half Bad is a brilliantly written book. While a young adult can just love it for the story, there are so many more layers to this book. It can be used to initiate discussions on racism, State control, genetic coding and so many other more intense topics. And these layers would make it an extremely interesting read for not-so-young adults too.

While Half Bad is about teenage witches, it is fundamentally about the fact that no-one should be pigeon-holed in terms of “black and white”, “good and bad”. Hence the title and Shakespeare quote from HAMLET at the beginning of the book. "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Sally’s reaction to the “black and white” nature of news broadcasting was a big impetus in the writing of the book. The book is full of examples of so-called ‘bad’ people doing good things and vice versa and the corruptive nature of power. The real enemy in this book is bureaucracy. As a mother, she is also interested in the nature vs nurture debate and the characters in the book are also good explorations of this theme.

The film rights for Half Bad have already been bought by 21st Century Fox with Karen Rosenfelt (Twilight, Percy Jackson, The Book Thief) producing. Green has already broken 2 Guinness Records - the most translated book (42 languages) by a first time author pre-publication, and the most translated children's book by a debut author pre-publication.

There are many unanswered questions at the end of the first part and I have my doubts whether part 2 - "Half Wild" will bring any clarity either. If you are the type who hates to wait on a cliff hanger, then it may be better to wait till all 3 books are out. Otherwise, just go out and buy this book immediately.

Rating : 4.5 / 5

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