Bubble, bubble... witches are the next big thing in teenage-lit
Young Adult Half Bad Sally Green Penguin, pbk, £7.99, 400 pages
Half Bad, the debut witch novel for teens by Sally Green hit the headlines recently because it has been sold to publishers in more than 40 countries and the film rights have been snapped up by Fox and the Twilight people for a big movie.
Witches may seem a bit old hat (sorry!) but Green, a 52-year-old British full-time mum, has given edgy new life to the tradition with her scary tale.
The book opens with a clever scene written in the second person. Two boys are playing with matches. One holds the match for too long, until his fingers burn, the other lets go. And so we are introduced to Nathan, a boy locked in a large cage, a fearless boy with remarkable healing skills. We learn that Nathan is a Half Code – son of a black witch and a white witch. Whites are 'good' witches, rulers of the witching world and terrified of the more dangerous black witches.
Nathan's father is Marcus, the most hated black witch of all – a man he has never met. The only person who can kill Marcus (according to an ancient prophecy) is his own son. So Nathan is stolen away from his family by the white witch council, locked in a cage and trained to fight and eventually kill his own father.
The plot veers from the present, where Nathan is planning to escape and find his father; to the past, where he is the victim of horrific childhood bullying, and back to the present again. This transition is well handled and flows nicely. The book is very firmly set in England and around witch culture, which sets it apart from many of the dystopia teen books of late, such as The Hunger Games and Divergent. However, the last third of the book – set in Switzerland – isn't as deftly plotted.
But this is a minor quibble. What lasts is the image of a boy in a cage – a remarkably fearless, determined boy. A boy who teenage girls will love – and teenage boys will want to be. For that reason alone, Sally Green is on to a winner. Believe the hype, witches are the next big thing.
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