People who live in the UK might have heard about the YA Book Prize: it's an award for the best UK young adult book and the winner will be announced in March. However, there is already a shortlist with 10 of the best UK YA books of 2014. Up until March, I will read each of these books (one a week) and post a review - I'm reading the books in the same order as the YA Book Prize twitter account is.
So from super realistic Lobsters we go to Half Bad, a book set in a world with witches, half-witches and fains (aka us).
Wanted by no one.
Hunted by everyone.
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?
Nathan as a narrator
Nathan is the narrator of the story and we follow his journey as a half-white and half-black witch trying to live in a society dominated by white witches. He never met his father, Marcus, or any other black witches, but he has been told that they are bad and should all be killed.
What I liked about Nathan is that he wasn't naive. Though he has been raised by white witches, he constantly questions their motives and ideas. Are they really the good ones? How can he know if he never met Marcus? Nathan is constantly struggling with those questions. He is a pleasant narrator to read, though he didn't really stick with me. I felt bad for him (some awful things happen to him), but I never really connected with him. He never seemed that upset about what was happening, so why would I?
And a lot of that probably has to do with the writing. I enjoyed reading Half Bad and Sally Green's writing never bothered me (trust me, a lot of writing does bother me), but I just didn't really love it either. The first few chapters were amazing: Nathan is completely disoriented and the writing reflects that perfectly. The sentences were short and often didn't make complete sense - exactly what your thoughts would be in the same situation. However, after that, Nathan felt less confusion and the writing became more organised too. I felt like the emotion left the story and I just didn't really care for Nathan anymore. It's hard to say whether it was the writing or Nathan as a character, but I just wasn't impressed.
While I am becoming a fantasy fan, I just wasn't super awed with the fantasy elements in this book. I thought the premises wasn't very original, so it was hard to get into the story (good witches vs bad witches blabla). However, once you're in the story, there are some really interesting twists and turns in the plot that make this more than an average YA novel. Nathan does unexpected things and those things don't pan out the way you (or he) thinks they will. This definitely kept me reading, because I honestly couldn't predict the ending until I read it.
Half bad is really kind of hard for me to rate. I didn't love reading the story, but I did enjoy the original plot. I didn't despise Nathan - I just didn't feel anything for him at all. Would I pick up the second book in the series? Probably not, with all my other options out there. So I think Half Bad will be a 3.5 stars. I said I wouldn't do half stars anymore, but I really feel like 3 is too low of a rating and 4 is too high so I'm going to do it anyway. Half Bad is a decent read, but not my favourite for the YA book prize.