Sally Green, Penguin, R299. Ages 14+.
Sally Green’s debut young adult novel, Half Bad, is already slated to be published in 36 countries with a signed film deal. Half Bad is set in a world where witches co-exist with humans (they are called whets) secretly. The story revolves around Nathan, a witch who is half-black and half-white; his mother (the White Witch) killed herself, and his father is the wicked Black Witch who has been absent forever and is on a happygo- killing spree. Nathan grows up with his grandmother and stepsiblings and is closely governed by the White Council, which is forever thrusting new notifications onto Half Codes.
At 17, Nathan will get three gifts to turn into a proper witch. That’s when his own Gift will be revealed and he will find out whether he is White or Black. Things get tense when Nathan’s thrust into a cage and watched over by another witch. There’s a quest thrown in towards the end of the first instalment as well as a love interest, who is, of course a White Witch.
The story may be new, but the threads in the narrative aren’t. There are shades of Twilight – the witches have to drink blood while getting their three gifts – and Harry Potter in it, as well as Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series. Nathan’s father sounds quite like Voldemort and Nathan keeps wondering if he’s Black or White, much like Potter’s dilemma about belonging to Gryffindor or Slytherin. There is a prophecy as well, and all that talk about purity of blood.
But Half Bad works because it is fast-paced and a thrilling read. Green writes lucidly, and keeps the story gripping at all times. There’s plenty of gore in the book, but it doesn’t come across as all dark and dreary. She also manages to put together a well-rounded slew of characters – there’s even a gay character (no, we won’t play spoiler). Between all that Black and White business, Green manages to shed enough doubt about the grey areas of life, reminding her young readers that life isn’t neatly divided into monochromes. The sequel is slated to come out next year and is called Half Wild. Bijal Vachharajani