I have a love / ‘ugh, really?’ relationship with young adult fiction. It’s like watching a film; I get lost in the few hours it takes to be absorbed and it generally leaves me crying in cathartic bliss. And then I start to think about it.
I’ve mentioned before that I have certain genres which I use as literary palate cleanser, a quick burst of another reality before I dive into the next tome. I don’t read a lot of YA so in the spirit of fairness I’ll put the following experience down to the small pool of YA I am encountering. From what I have read, despite how many kick-ass female leads there are or how amazing the cleverly plotted distopian world is, YA books are trope central. Mary Sue’s, love triangles, and sleeping beauties all mixed in with some wonderful story telling.
Which brings me to Half Bad by Sally Green. I didn’t much expect to enjoy this book, but enjoy it I did – it swept me in. As a palate cleanser it was perfect tiding me over before I began The Bookshop. However, it has it’s flaws, ones that made it difficult to rate it highly.
You can’t read, can’t write, but you heal fast, even for a witch.
You get sick if you stay indoors after dark.
You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.
You’ve been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.
All you’ve got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. And do that before your seventeenth birthday.
Easy.” Synopsis from GoodReads.
If you are after a quick escape into an inverted land of good and bad witches, this is your book. It’s cleverly plotted and I enjoyed the shades of grey Nathan’s – our protagonist – world is cast in.
In Nathan’s world there are White witches and there are Black witches, and then there is him. The only half-blood witch, Nathan is persecuted throughout his childhood by the council of White witches, a corrupt governmental system who want to use Nathan for their own dastardly means. His older half-sister is a sadistic and powerful White witch (all female witches have a stronger power than the male) who also torments Nathan. His other half-siblings are loving and protective of their younger brother, but love isn’t enough to keep him safe. Nathan must break free of every one he knows – he must trust no one – to fulfil his destiny.
I’ve made it sound a little dramatic, but that’s the general gist of the book.
Thar be spoilers ahead, read with care.
As much as I loved the escapism of Half Bad, there was one niggling problem that kept itching me – Annalise.
You may be wondering why I have issue with Annalise’s storyline considering there are other strong female characters within the novel. Regardless of the actions of the other women – which I would like to point out consisted of a massive bitch, a bitter old hag and another who dies – Annalise’s victim status is a big problem. She comes from an abusive family and I understand finding protection and self-preservation are important factors, but her actions rarely made sense to me. While I could have dealt with her weakness – we all react to trauma differently – it was her sleeping beauty status at the end of the novel that frustrated me. Sure trap her or teach her the ways of the dark witches, but put her in a deep death like slumber – Sally Green I know you can do better than this. By shutting Annalise down she effectively spends the book being an object for Nathan to focus on and care for despite his dark half – she fails to be someone in her own right. She is now an object which needs rescuing. This reminded me of the Feminist Frequency series Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, specifically the damsel in distress – while a different medium I feel there are clear parallels.
Personally, at the end of the book I would have liked a Lord of the Rings move, where characters you wouldn’t expect to combine went on separate journeys. Alas, I am but one reader, and I cannot always be pleased.
Side note: I’m not sure the book does well representing male characters either, being emotionally expressive seems to be persecuted which ever side you are on. But, they are predominantly teenagers, so being emotionally distant is par for the course.
Frustrating gender representation aside Half Bad is a good novel, and one I would recommend you read.