AUTHOR: Sally Green
SERIES: Half Bad Trilogy, book 1
PUBLICATION DATE: March 4, 2014
SOURCE: my library
SETTING: England & Switzerland, modern day
GIVE IT TO: upper-MS, HS
SUMMARY: Shackled, beaten, and caged, 16-year old Nathan Byrn is an anomaly. Nathan is the only (known) child of a white witch and a black witch. His mother, the white witch, committed suicide when Nathan was very young. His father is the most powerful, dangerous, and feared black witch in the world. Because Nathan is his father’s son and the only half-white, half-black witch, the Council of White Witches plans to use Nathan as a weapon against his father, to bring down the powerful black witch, once and for all.
WHY I READ IT: We have five copies in our library due to the book being on the Panda Booklist in 2014, and the books were continually checked out by students without my booktalking the title. Clearly, they were recommending it to each other. I asked a couple of students about it, and they said it was really good and that I would like it. They were so right!
REVIEW: If Voldemort and Lily Potter had a love child, that child would be like Nathan Byrn.
I absolutely loved this book. It is a slow build-up and takes its time establishing character and building the world. I also love the contrast of good versus evil and how they are not so clearly divided. I love the dichotomy of Nathan, who tries so hard to stay out of the trouble that always seems to find him. I love the muddied lines between good and evil and the fact that the line between them depends on who has the power (not necessarily the “good” side).
I enjoyed the pacing, but it does take its time building up the story of Nathan. It starts out describing Nathan’s daily experiences in the cage, then backtracks to his childhood for a good 100 pages or so before returning to the cage. There’s lots of information about his past, his upbringing with his maternal grandmother, his three half-siblings, a white witch from school that he likes/loves, and eventually, returns to how he ended up in the cage. Without this hook at the beginning (where Nathan is in the cage), I think some readers might not make it to the good stuff that happens after the Council gets hold of him. I never really thought it was slow, but I can see where some might believe otherwise.
There is a romance, but it isn’t a huge part of the story until near the end. Based on the events at the end of Half Bad, I suspect the sequel, Half Wild will address this further. I’m still not sure about this girl–I have little to go on about her motives or her character. By the time she reappears in the story, Nathan hasn’t seen her in three years. That’s a lot of time for young people, particularly those with her family, to mature into someone very different.
There is some odd/interesting use of second person narrative in a couple of sections of the book. I think this is Nathan trying to separate himself from his horrible circumstances, like one of his “tricks” to getting through each day shackled and beaten in a cage. It’s very interesting though, that use of second person. I would love to hear other perspectives on it. It could make a very interesting high school class discussion.
I’ve heard this is optioned for a movie? Yes, please!
THE BOTTOM LINE: A unique, well-paced story that will be easy to booktalk. Give this one to Harry Potter fans. It isn’t the same, but it’s cool to think of Marcus as the Voldemort of this world. What if Voldemort did have a child?
STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have 5 copies that get frequent checkout. Now that I have read it and will booktalk it, checkout is bound to increase even further.
READALIKES: Harry Potter (Rowling); The Last Apprentice (Delaney)
- Overall: 5/5
- Creativity: 5/5
- Characters: 5/5
- Engrossing: 5/5
- Writing: 5/5
- Appeal to teens: 4/5–some may find the pacing slow; probably not a great choice for reluctant readers
- Appropriate length to tell the story: 5/5
- Language: mild-medium; includes “F***” (but it doesn’t say it); says “I cursed at him” or “I threw in some curse words”
- Sexuality: medium; one kiss in reality, but naked kissing fantasies and dreams; one witch character loves to flaunt her sexuality; one male witch is teased for having a crush on Nathan (and he might)
- Violence: high; there’s murder, shootings, blood and gore, poisoning, fights, stabbing, torture
- Drugs/Alcohol: mild; poisonings and drugging of prisoners