Warning: this review contains mild spoilers!
I was always going to be slightly biased towards this book as 1) I am a huge sucker for giant marketing campaigns and 2) it was written by a fellow North Westerner (still not entirely sure whereabouts in the North West of England Sally Green is from, but I'll take what I can get).
So, Half Bad is a YA book about witches. There are two types of witches – Black and White, and on a witch's seventeenth birthday they have a giving ceremony, which determines which kind of witch they are going to be (I think this is determined by what kind of witch gives them their blood at the ceremony, but I'm not entirely sure...).
Nathan is half and half – his mother was a White witch, but his dad is the most powerful Black witch alive. As he grows up, the Council (who are all White witches and believe Black witches should be wiped out) takes increasing interest in him, as they try to determine what kind of witch he'll be. They imprison Nathan in the hope that they can manipulate him into killing his own father, but he escapes and goes looking for his father instead. It's a race against time for him to 1) receive his three gifts at his giving ceremony on his seventeenth birthday (because if he doesn't, he'll die) and 2) find his father before the Council does.
The book starts with a bang – when we first meet Nathan he's locked up in a cage. Sally Green does a fantastic job of drawing you into Nathan's world, simply by starting the book is what is essentially the midpoint of the plot. The background to Nathan's world is intriguing, and I really enjoyed finding out about the rules of this world, the psychology of both White and Black witches, and about Nathan's own upbringing. However, around halfway through the book, I have to admit I started to get a teeny bit restless. As we follow Nathan on his journey to find his father/another Black witch called Mercury who can help him with his giving ceremony, he makes friends with another Black witch, escapes from Hunters (White witches trained to kill Black witches) numerous times and falls in love with a White witch (naturally). After the halfway point, I started to get a bit bored and found my attention wandering, as Nathan just seemed to be running around and not doing an awful lot apart from moping/thinking about Annalise/agonising over his future (think of the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and you'll get my drift).
Overall, Half Bad is a great debut book and I like the fresh take Sally Green has on witches. The world building was good and I was satisfied with the explanations behind the character's motives and world. The writing is gritty, and the author doesn't skimp on the bloody or violent details like most YA authors tend to do. It's this style of writing that really makes you feel for Nathan and his situation, and makes the whole thing seem more real, as though there really could be witches running around trying to murder each other while us 'fains' (non-magic folk) wander around blissfully unaware. The main theme running throughout the book is the age old question of nature vs nurture, and as a reader, you're constantly wondering which direction Nathan will go – will he stay true to the beliefs he's been brought up with, or will the White witches and their endless persecution turn him into a witch's version of 'Frankenstein's monster'?
For me though, the last third of the book wasn't up to the same standard as the rest of it, and the action felt more rushed than punchy - the last few pages in particular were a whirlwind, and the last line, which was clearly supposed to end the book on a dramatic note, simply made me roll my eyes. There's also the case of the typical 'forbidden love'/insta-love that unfortunately seems to happen so often in YA literature these days; Nathan's love interest, Annalise, comes from the purest White witch family around - although naturally she rebels and decides to follow Nathan instead. To me, I think this aspect of the story could've been written slightly differently to make in more intriguing, as it's completely obvious from the moment Nathan first meets Annalise what's going to happen. Saying that, Half Bad a good start to the series and I'll definitely be checking out the second book when it arrives next year – I just won't be rushing out to buy it like I did with this one.
Final comments: A good solid debut, but a couple of slices short of a full cake I'm afraid.