The Half Bad Trilogy by Sally Green, had been languishing on my TBR list since the first book was published in 2014. A few weeks ago I was looking for an audiobook to accompany me on a road trip and Half Bad popped up. I devoured all 3 audiobooks, over 26 hours, in about 5 days. Chores went undone, work was set aside, and sleep was no longer necessary. I was in thrall to this series! Since I read all three books back-to-back-to-back, I’m reviewing the series as a whole rather than the individual books. Don’t worry, no spoilers. I want you to experience it for yourself.
From the book flap:
|Sixteen-year-old Nathan lives in a cage: beaten, shackled, trained to kill. In a modern-day England where two warring factions of witches live amongst humans, Nathan is an abomination, the illegitimate son of the world’s most terrifying and violent witch, Marcus. Nathan’s only hope for survival is to escape his captors, track down Marcus, and receive the three gifts that will bring him into his own magical powers—before it’s too late. But how can Nathan find his father when there is no one safe to trust, not even family, not even the girl he loves?|
Overall: Set in modern-day England, Half Bad is the tale a sixteen-year-old witch named Nathan Byrn. Nathan has a good white witch as a mother and an infamous black witch for a father. With his mother dead and his father in exile, Nathan lives with his grandmother and half-siblings. Unlike Nathan, his half siblings are 100% white witches which means they are the “good guys”. Which by default makes Nathan…what exactly?
Black witches and White witches have co-existed for hundreds of years in relative peace. But with new leadership of the White witches comes a new zeal for purity and cleansing. Nathan, with his mixed-witch lineage, becomes the poster boy for their campaign. Unless he prove he’s more good than bad he must be contained for the greater good, even if he’s done nothing wrong.
Nathan struggles to figure out where he belongs. He acts out, has a horrible temper and starts to believe what everyone tells him- that he’ll become just like his father, a ruthless killer. But despite all the strikes against him, Nathan tries to be more like his good half than his bad half. The problem is people can’t be neatly divided into “good” and “bad”. White witches do some pretty horrendous things (mostly to Nathan directly) in their fight for good. Meanwhile, some of the black witches are the most compassionate characters. But perception is reality. People assume Nathan is bad so anything he does is deemed to be bad, even when he’s doing the right thing.
The Half Bad series is at times dark, bleak and hard to read. There are acts of violence, betrayal and heart break. But there’s also friendship, love, redemption and hope. The story is told from Nathan’s POV and Green makes him such a real character, so young and male and ALIVE, that I could almost smell him. We get inside Nathan’s head and it’s an isolated cluttered shifty place one minute and a wide open meadow under blue skies the next. Nathan is not good VS. bad, he’s good AND bad. He’s human.
Judge a Book by its Cover: The covers appear abstract, but their meanings are apparent and profound once you’ve read the book (no spoilers!).
Me Talk Pretty: If I didn’t know any better I’d say Sally Green was a pissed of sixteen year old boy. We spend all three books in Nathan’s head and she gets Nathan’s voice down perfectly. He’s a kid who’s had a label slapped on him (figuratively and literally) and he’s angry and it shows.
Audiobook Narration: There are some audiobook narrators that are so perfectly suited to the task you can’t help but wonder if the story was written for them. Carl Prekopp is such a narrator. Prekopp will forever be my Nathan Byrn.
Kick-Ass Factor: Half Bad begins with Nathan in a cage and not like “I just got here and I’ll soon be rescued” in a cage. I’m talking “please forward all my mail to this cage for the foreseeable future” in a cage. Where do you go from there and how many people will you kill along the way?
Body Count: The answer to the above question: You go a little nuts and you kill A LOT.
The Chosen One: You can’t avoid the inevitable Harry Potter comparisons with this book, but trust me, this is way darker. Half Bad is like Harry Potter on meth! Nathan may be The Chosen One, but the what he’s chosen for is a losing battle.
He Said/She Said: There are many memorable quotes over 3 books. Here are few of my favorites.
“The point of being good is doing it when it’s tough, not when it’s easy.”
“Wild is an interesting word. We imagine wild to be untamed and out of control but, of course, nature isn’t like that; nature is controlled, ordered, extremely disciplined by all its elements.”
Don’t Believe the Hype: If anything, Half Bad is under hyped. Perhaps we’re slow on getting the book recommendations from across the pond. I might be a little late to the party, but I’m so glad I showed up. This series was bloody brilliant!
Bizarre Love Triangle: There is a bit of a love triangle, but of the unrequited and ill-timed love variety. Trust me, there are Feels. (Spoiler Alert: there were tears).
Open tab/Last call: This trilogy gave me a major book hanger in the best possible way. I’ll find a cozy pub somewhere in Wales and wait for Nathan and Sally Green to join me. I’ll keep the tab open for as long as it takes.