By Sally Green
Published by Penguin
ISBN 978 0141350868
Hype can be dangerous stuff, so when you pick up a book that's being publicised as "the book that became a global sensation before it was even published", it's wise to proceed with caution.
Sally Green has already been hailed as the next J.K. Rowling, Stephenie Meyer or Suzanne Collins. Half Bad, her debut novel, has been sold to publishers in nearly 40 countries, and Hollywood already has the film rights. All very exciting, but is it actually any good?
As soon as you start to read, you are thrown in at the deep end of a story about a young boy named Nathan who is imprisoned in a cage. After this intriguing introduction, the story flashes back to fill in all the details and the whys of how Nathan ended up in his bizarre set-up. Although set in an alternative Britain, where witches live alongside ordinary humans, don't think for one minute that Green's debut novel is going to be another Potter clone.
The characters and plot are very much Green's own creation. The witch community is split very clearly into the white - good - witches and the black - evil - witches.
Sadly, Nathan is a "half-code", the child of a white witch mother and a black witch father. He has to be assessed every year to assure the white witch council that he is growing up on the white side of magic, and not the evil black side. Everyone is keeping an eye on him, expecting him to turn out like his father, watching for his first mistake.
Nathan's situation makes him unstable, afraid and angry. He lashes out and loses control when he feels threatened. He doesn't want to grow up in a world that mistrusts him, and he resents the restrictions the council has imposed on him. Nathan sets out to prove how wrong it is to stick a label around a boy's neck as he struggles to be the person he wants to be.
Green's clever writing reflects the conflict in Nathan's character, and she tells his story with economy and style. Besides being a coming-of-age story, Half Bad is a fast-paced, gripping page-turner.
Although it is dark and even violent at times, readers young and old will love every page of this novel - all 380 of them. The plot carries you with it at breakneck speed, and the narrative avoids padding almost entirely.
So, yes, this book lives up to its hype and deserves to be huge. It is a genuinely addictive read. Brilliant and compelling, Half Bad is already one of our Books of the Year.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com