An unconventional treatment of witches, not to mention having a main character who seems mentally ill, that gives off an unmistakeably British sense of character, emotion, and humor.
Born into a family of White Witches with his famously murderous Black Witch father hanging over his head and a predominantly oppressive White Witch society, Nathan is alienated and outcast, a lower piece of humanity as designated by his blood. As the only product of Half Black – Half White that there is in the world (called Half Code), Nathan is tarred and feathered as “half bad”. His stepfather was murdered, his mother was put to death for giving birth to him, his older half-sister hates him, and other White Witches are warned to stay away from him, but instead most of them abuse him. There are very few people in Nathan’s life who genuinely love him – his younger half-sister and half-brother and his grandmother. As Nathan gets older, the Council of White Witches gets more and more concerned about Nathan, submitting him to trial after trial until they can prove he is one or the other – White or Black Witch. As they get more and more frustrated at Nathan’s omission to label himself, they take him into custody, giving him over to a stoic tutor Celia who, at their order, keeps him in a cage and beats him regularly. They also want Nathan because he could be a great asset, the key to finding and killing his infamous father Marcus. As Nathan nears 17, the age when witches are given three gifts and must take their family’s blood to come into their full heritage of powers, the pressure increases for Nathan. But no one, except perhaps his sweet love Annalise, understands that Nathan doesn’t want to kill like his father. He just wants to escape, but with the freedom to be himself, even if he doesn’t know quite what that means yet.
At the conclusion of the last book, Nathan was in a bad predicament. To save Annalise from death at the hands of Mercury, his great-aunt, he must retrieve the Fairborn (his family knife) from the Hunters, the police force of the Council of White Witches, and then he will be under contract to Mercury for a year, for whatever services she might require, probably killing his father. However, escaping from the Hunters with Gabriel, his new friend, and Rose, Mercury’s assistant, has gotten Rose killed, Gabriel missing, and Nathan severely wounded, though he was visited by his father Marcus and given his three gifts. Just as he was returning to Mercury, the Hunters attack and Mercury wants Marcus’s head or heart or Annalise will shortly die.
Now, with a short time to save Annalise, Nathan still has to find Gabriel and elude the Hunters, all the while struggling with managing his new Gift, which seems to be very similar to his father’s as he becomes some sort of animal, and his new status as an official Black Witch. He must trust new allies in Van and Nesbitt, other Black Witches, to help him find and kill Mercury to save Annalise with a promise that he will join a new alliance of all types of witches to bring down the Council of White Witches. But they want Nathan’s help for a specific reason, so he can bring Marcus into the alliance. With the prophecy that Nathan will kill Marcus hanging over his head, Nathan is understandably conflicted. Their new relationship brings about a better understanding of his father’s past, Nathan’s difficult powers, and his own conflict of identity. While Nathan might have been very much a feared underdog before, he’s coming into his own now, and he struggles with believing he is worthy of love and friendship after having been abused for so long. Be prepared for a surprising ending…
This is such a disturbing, almost unbalanced series as it follows Nathan’s traumatic upbringing and coming-of-age and yet it gives great contrast between love and hate, acceptance and prejudice, and actions versus attitudes. While the narrative seems to struggle as Nathan’s voice is hard to fully embrace, especially when he is an animal, the story itself is unforgettable and horrifying. I don’t know how someone could be unsympathetic to Nathan and the cruelty he experiences. He is not a victim, however, and despite his horrid circumstances, he overcomes them and is still this person who is capable of both great harm and great good. In this, I find, is the comparison between Nathan and Harry Potter, as Harry too had to struggle with his motives and consequences of his actions. Also, this is a rather unforgiving treatment of witches and their conflict, and that makes it both intriguing and disappointing as there are only two sides–White being “good” and yet terribly prejudiced and Machiavellian, and Black being “bad” and typically murderous or prone to causing harm. As we see in the second book, however, this is only the case in Great Britain as other regions do not have the same war of Black vs. White. Instead, they keep to themselves mostly. One of my favorite characters in this series is Gabriel. I just love Gabriel. Let’s see if I can reason it out by talking about the others. While I am on the fence about Annalise still, Nathan both horrifies me and gets my sympathy, Nesbitt is too crass and possibly stupid though dangerous, and Van is too strong and unapproachable (though awe-inspiring). Gabriel is the most open, caring, loyal friend who is also so true to his nature as a Black Witch. He sort of brings out the best in everyone. Maybe that’s why he’s my favorite. I will say, that while this series got a lot of publicity within the last two years, I don’t think it’s quite as good as everyone was gushing about. I am most compelled to read book 3, Half Lost, assumed to be coming out in 2016, especially to see what a fantastic job Sally Green does with developing Nathan’s journey and identity.