Synopsis from Goodreads: In modern-day England, witches live alongside humans: White witches, who are good; Black witches, who are evil; and fifteen-year-old Nathan, who is both. Nathan’s father is the world’s most powerful and cruel Black witch, and his mother is dead. He is hunted from all sides. Trapped in a cage, beaten and handcuffed, Nathan must escape before his sixteenth birthday, at which point he will receive three gifts from his father and come into his own as a witch—or else he will die. But how can Nathan find his father when his every action is tracked, when there is no one safe to trust—not even family, not even the girl he loves?OVERALL IMPRESSIONS:
JEN: According to my ARC, this was the buzz book of the 2013 Bologna Children's Book Fair. What did you think overall?
LAUREN: Overall I found the book to be very readable. I got through it fast, and wanted to keep picking it up again whenever I was interrupted. However, this felt sort of prequel like to me. The point being to get Nathan to age 17 (he starts at 11 or 12).
JEN: Yes -- prequel is a good word. I enjoyed the book, but wrote in my notes that it felt like a set-up book. I'm intrigued but also left with questions as to what kind of story this series will tell. I think all the hype didn't help - my expectations were really high.
LAUREN: I agree. I read this book with a constant sense of wondering where it was going, and the feeling never really left me even at the end. However, I still enjoyed the story and will pick up the sequel. But like you, I’m a little worried about the hype monster in relation to this series.
JEN: I just hope there is more plot to come than is hinted at in this first book. It seemed to me that there was one major story question set up by the end, and it wasn't the aspect of the story I was most excited about. It seemed that the major question the book sets up is: (highlight for spoilers) will Nathan kill his father? And by the end of the book, the cliffhanger seemed to be: what will happen to Annalise? (end spoilers) As we discuss in part two of this review, neither you or I are very invested in that last question. Overall, I was intrigued, but wished the stakes had felt even higher.
LAUREN: I agree, the two big elements of anticipation which we are left with at the end of this book weren’t the parts of the story that I found most compelling. I’m a little more interested in a third element (highlight for spoiler) finding Gabriel. (end spoiler) But that’s not something that can carry an entire second book. I just like that character.
THE STORY WORLD
JEN: I was a little confused about the whole White Witch/Black Witch rivalry. There was the Cain and Abel story that Mary told Nathan -- the one about the good and evil twins -- but I still didn't understand what sustained the hatred between the White and Black witches to the present day.
LAUREN: Yeah. I know. The Black/White divide is historically in a lot of witch mythology. But I agree. Not much actual difference in the characters we saw in this book. They have different eyes, and Black Witches are more arrogant and less social, but that's so intangible (Hunters are described as arrogant too). It’s also not always supported in the people we meet. We encounter so many awful White Witches that I'm having trouble believing in their goodness. But maybe that's the point?
JEN: I guess. I'm a big fan of moral ambiguity in books, but when all the characters seem equally evil, I feel myself becoming more emotionally detached.
LAUREN: Definitely. I’m always interested in a good nature/nurture debate, and there’s a bit of that in this book. As well as the question of whether these White Witches are making Nathan bad by the way their treating him. But, I’m not sure I’ve actually visibly seen a difference between the White and Black witches to get why they’re different.
JEN: Agreed. I hope that we get more clarity on this in the next book.
HALF-BAD AND HARRY POTTER
LAUREN: Yes. We have a boy who’s one of a kind and a prophecy telling us he’ll kill the bad guy, but this time he’s the child of the bad guy. Magical artifacts (the Fairborne). Mysterious parental deaths. An unfriendly high council that produces ridiculous edicts. Anytime the word half-blood was mentioned, I thought of Harry Potter. Oh and a magical drainpipe!
JEN: Don't forget Diagon -- I mean Cobalt -- Alley, which is invisible to humans! We have a story world where witches co-exist with humans. We have Fains instead of Muggles. We have at least one character who seems to have animagus-like powers. We have a boy who's locked in a cage instead of being relegated to a cupboard under the stairs. It's the same type of story world as Harry Potter, albeit a darker one. I have only read one Patrick Ness book -- what did you think about that comparison?
LAUREN: I always have a big issue with the “official” publisher comparisons in general. I can see the comparison to Patrick Ness, though – he likes these boy protagonists who suffer endlessly and grow from it. I kept being told at ALA that this was like a contemporary coming of age story but with some magical elements thrown in, which I guess I can see as well.
JEN: Given the long time span that this book covers, I think "coming of age" is an apt description. And I think we both can't wait to see where things go.
Be sure to go to Lauren's blog, Love Is Not a Triangle, to read the rest of our discussion, in which we dish about Half Bad's characters and the romance factor.
LAUREN: You’re right. We didn’t get enough of Annalise or Marcus to know more than what we’re told about them.
JEN: I really felt Nathan's devotion to Arran, though. I wish Arran had played a larger role in this story.
LAUREN: We’ve definitely established how much we love Arran. Nathan’s connection to his brother is so strong and raw, and it makes sense But with both Annalise and Marcus, Nathan has unwavering, blind unsupported faith. No suspicion or doubt, EVER. Over YEARS. It makes no sense. Jessica was a more compelling villain than Marcus, if that’s the role he’s playing.
JEN: I completely agree. I was confused by the fact that Nathan's devotion to his brother wasn't used to manipulate him in the story, yet we were asked to accept that he'd risk anything for Annalise or Marcus. As I was reading, I just kept having this frustrated feeling that all the good stuff was being saved up for future books: exposing Annalise as a pawn, a Jessica-Nathan smackdown, revealing why or why not Marcus should die, and of course, our hope for a certain love interest for Gabriel. (We discuss that on Lauren's blog under spoilers.)
LAUREN: Agree. I feel like there were several reveals that the author led off with here, and that decision disappointed me a bit.
JEN: I REALLY hope you're right about Gabriel. Or at least that we get some of these reveals that we are hoping for.
LAUREN: Me too.