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?
Half Bad is an international sensation and the start of a brilliant trilogy: a gripping tale of alienation and the indomitable will to survive.
Half Bad had one of the strongest beginnings I’ve seen in a while. Normally, I’m suspicious of second person in books, but in this case it worked. The immediacy and simplicity of the writing pulled me in immediately. (If you don’t like second person, don’t worry–it goes away after the prologue, but the intensity of the writing remains). I flew through the first 150 pages, lost interest a little in the middle because not a whole lot was happening, and quickly became invested again during the last fifty pages. Even though I wish that the pacing had been faster at times, that we knew a little more about the secondary characters, Half Bad’s intriguing premise and interesting, sympathetic protagonist kept me invested in the story.
Even though I didn’t love the first book as much as I wanted to, I saw the potential behind every page. Nathan was by far my favorite part of the series; his voice was spot-on, and the close first person made it very easy for me to connect with him. I’m not particularly attached to any of the other characters, but there are a few I’m interested in, and I want to see more of them (especially that Gabriel guy!) in the future. There was a nice dose of sibling feelings in the beginning of the book, and a nice dose of friendship (possibly ship?) feelings at the end. Half Bad was a reasonably strong start to a potentially-amazing series that I definitely plan to continue. I’ve already placed a hold on the second book in the library, and I will be picking it up as soon as I can.
As I mentioned before, my biggest issue with the book was the pacing of the second half. The book dragged quite a bit in the middle, to the point where it took me three weeks to finish it, which does not happen to me often. After a while, the events began to seem repetitive, and I just wanted something new to happen already. (To be fair, it did happen eventually!)
I normally have no problem with slow pacing as long as I like the characters enough. As I mentioned before, I love Nathan a lot, but I feel like this book could have used some better developed secondary characters; some of them interested me (Gabriel, Rose, and Celia all come to mind), but the for the most part they all fell somewhat flat. I had trouble keeping some characters’ names straight, which is always a bad sign. In particular, I was very disappointed in the way Nathan’s love interest Annalise was written. I tried really hard to like her, but she felt like a complete blank space of a character to me, and not in the fun Taylor Swift way. She and her relationship with Nathan felt very generic; I’m hoping for better development in future books.
The writing was excellent; simple but extremely effective, and very personal, very much like how I would have expected the inside of Nathan’s head to sound. There were bits were it got very stream-of-consciousness, enough to have the intended effect, but not so much that it seemed excessive. It was straightforward, direct, sometimes brutal, always highly intense. Even at the parts of the story where I was disappointing by how little was actually was going on, the immediacy of the writing helped to maintain my interest.
Nathan, as I already said, was a great character; I sympathized intensely with what he was going through and wanted him to have nice things. (Spoiler alert: there were very few nice things). His anger, his humor, and his capacity for survival made me love him a lot. I can’t wait to see where his arc goes, and how he’ll respond to all the different forces around him and their expectations of the person he’ll end up being.
Nathan’s relationship with his family (barring the requisite Evil Sister) made me feel all of the things. They aren’t the most developed characters I’ve seen, but just seeing them want to protect Nathan and believing in him even when the rest of the world has decided to hate him, was enough to twist my heartstrings into a million knots.
The worldbuilding, like the writing, was simple but effective. Right now I just want to learn more about the history and how magic works and a million other things, but it has a very distinct feel to it that I like.
Pick up. Maybe not the best book I’ve ever read, but a promising start to what looks like an excellent new series.