I'm very confused as to why anyone would compare Half Bad by Sally Green to Harry Potter. How did this occur? There is literally nothing here that is in any way similar in the slightest to Harry Potter. Like, not even a little bit. Not even a microscopic piece. Therefore, being disappointed in Half Bad because you were expecting Harry Potter is really rather bizarre. Yeah. Don't do that.
So I took my horse up onto the hills the other week. This is the first time I've been able to do this with him in a long time as the weather had been bad. When I talk about my horse I'm not talking about a little smiling, round-bellied pony. My horse is a fire breathing dragon - a pumped up, arrogant show jumper with an opinion that is unfortunately often different to my own. As soon as his hooves hit the grass at the bottom of the first hill he was bouncing, every muscle coiled, a mad glint in his eye. What happened next was purely a lack of judgement on my part. I said to him you wanna go, you go - I dropped the reins slack and booted him in the ribs. Please don't ask me what the hell was going through my mind when I suggested that this 1500lb creature with a wicked sense of humour and a responsibility for my well-being aim for a flat out gallop, but I did. Unfortunately horses are highly unpredictable and instead of riding off into the sunset with the wind in our hair my horse decided he was going to pretend he was at the rodeo and proceeded to kick and buck like there was no tomorrow. I'm talking back hooves over his head, twisting every which way, just broncing. For some reason I was taken completely by surprise and didn't have a hope in hell staying on the madman's back and therefore went sailing off rather ungracefully, landing in a very awkward heap on the ground while my now ecstatically pleased with himself horse disappeared over the horizon, leaping about triumphantly. I was black and blue. Nobody ever told me that there are rocks on that hill. And when you fall onto rocks it hurts.
Reading Half Bad felt like falling hard onto those rocks all over again. This book beat me up. It punched me right in the feels.
Half Bad is the rather brutal story of Nathan, a boy half white witch, half black witch. In this reality witches live alongside fains, or regular people (muggles if we have to go there) and consist of white witches - the supposed good guys - and black witches - the feared and ostracised. Nathan is the first of his kind and labelled a half code. His mother was a much respected white witch, his father the most hated and murderous black witch in English history. The witch's government is wary of Nathan, afraid of what he will become and hellbent on imposing suffocating controls on him. Nathan must escape the clutches of the white witch government before his seventeenth birthday in order for him to receive three gifts and the blood of his ancestors or he will never grow into a mature witch, instead becoming sick and dying a horrible death. There's many scrapes along the way - lots of running and jumping, gunshots and knives.
"The Aether flowed, corded and angry, giving the night a blue, marbled glow. After the storm, the calm skies had only held for a day. Now there was little difference between day and night anymore. Days were darkened by clouds and the blue cast of Aether. Nights were brightened by the same. They flowed together, the edges blurring into an endless day. An ever night."
Yeah okay. I did not much care for Under The Never Sky. You can check out my review to learn why. But I'm not sour. I'm fair. Everyone deserves a second chance. And Veronica Rossi, on your second chance - you win.
The first time I went skiing I spent pretty much the entire trip unsure of which way up I was. That and freezing. And sunburned. No-one warns you that the sun glaring off the snow burns skin. Why ?!! Why does no-one warn you of these things ?!! "Come skiing" they said. "It'll be fun" they said. They never told me I'd twist both my ankles around a dozen times, find the chair lift about as disconcerting as dangling dozens of feet in the air from a seemingly rickety, thin metal structure over a hard and frozen surface can be or that being smacked in the face repeatedly by shards of ice is in actual fact not at all pleasant. They assured me that throwing yourself over the side of a snow covered mountain several times in one day is great - "You'll have a blast !!!" - yeah. No. Skiing and I do not see eye-to-eye.
However .... When the opportunity arose for me to go give sliding down a sickenly steep hill strapped to two ridiculously narrow planks of wood another chance I think I must have suffered some kind of memory malfunction because I agreed. It was only as we were pulling into the parking lot and I caught a glimpse of dozens of bodies hurtling at speed down, what looked to me like a sheer cliff face above us that my stomach began to churn and the recollection of my previous experiences resurfaced - think: a ski instructor yelling at the top of his voice "MAKE A PIZZA SHAPE WITH YOUR SKIS !!!" as I flew merrily past, gaining speed at an alarming rate, all the while my knees beginning to bend in ways that no knees have any business bending. Yeah, it wasn't pretty.
But I actually was super glad that I gave skiing another chance. The view at the top, after I'd survived the chair lift ( just ) was great, we found a decent instructor who didn't feel the need to use food analogies to teach me how to ski properly and the lodge did pretty much the most awesome breakfast that I have ever eaten. I did not experience my life flashing before my eyes this time, and that's usually the mark of a very good trip.
So sometimes it's good to give a thing a second chance. I'm glad I pressed on and read Through The Ever Night because really, it's kinda awesome.
"We lose and lose, but we're still here. Shaking in place, afraid of doing something. I'm tired of settling for this because I don't know if something better exists. It has to. What point is there otherwise? I can do something about it. And I will."
This sequel very neatly sidesteps the dreaded Curse-of-the-middle-book that so many trilogies fall foul of and manages to actually kick the ass of the first book, Under The Never Sky. Gone is the endless tramping through forestry, gone are the awkward, clunky romantic exchanges and gone is Aria behaving like a wet dishrag. All this shit from the first book has been replaced by well rounded, likeable characters, well paced and interesting action and some actual real live feels.
"Love was like the waves in the sea, gentle and good sometimes, rough and terrible at others, but that it was endless and stronger than the sky and earth and everything in between."
Aria and Perry's relationship, now already established, is thoughtful and believable. Having discovered that Reverie may be on it's last legs, suffered through the death of her mother and made a fool's deal with the menacing Hess to lead him to the safety of the Still Blue, Aria is kicking about in the woods when Perry stumbles across her and upon their reunion brings her to live with him at the Tide's compound of which he is the newly instated Blood Lord following the untimely death of his brother Vale. From there we follow their quest to rescue Perry's kidnapped nephew Talon, discover the whereabouts of Perry's sister Liv and ultimately find refuge for the down-on-their-luck Tides as the worsening aether storms and hostile clans close in from on sides.
Aria and Perry must keep their relationship a secret or suffer the wrath of the Tides anger at their Blood Lord being tempted by a dweller. This sounds like a bit of a lame story line, right? It wasn't. The characters of the Tides are unique, interesting and developed. Veronica Roth actually made me give a shit about supporting characters !! Hurrah !! Perry's loyalty and devotion to his people made Through The Ever Night stand out as much more than a typical YA romance with added peril - it created a story with real meaning about courage, love and family unity. There was no need for Perry to care for Cinder and later Marron, offering them shelter, food and a place amongst the Tides, but he did because he's a real stand up guy who actually gives a fuck about other people. And there was no need for Aria to give a shit about what happened to Talon but she did because she loves Perry and wants to see him happy. I like these values and I love these characters.
With lots of different threads unravelling simultaneously Through The Ever Night is fast paced and flowing. Dual POV can be a drag, with the reader inevitably picking a side and just waiting it out for the POV to return to the favoured character, but I feel like both sides of this story were engaging and interesting and actually held my interest equally. I very much enjoyed Roar and Aria's interactions. I pretty much heart Roar. He's the loveable best friend all YA characters should have to prevent them spiralling downward into a self-obsessed, black hole of introspection and incessant inner monologues of hopelessness which sadly often happens during forbidden-love story lines, particularly in YA where everything seems to get so goddam intense.
"Aria dropped her satchel against the wall and glanced at the front door, smiling at a sound beyond the reach of his ears. A second later, Roar blew into the house in a dark flash.
'Finally!' he bellowed. He wrapped Aria into a big hug, lifting her off the ground. 'What took you so long? Don't answer that." He glanced at Perry. "I think I know."
As sick as this may sound, I like the fact that everyone was in actual danger and that they had some proper urgency about them, wether it was from the destruction of the aether storms, the violence of other clans desperate to find safety or from the harsh brutality of the leader of Reverie, Hess. There was real pain and oh, the feels. Ouch. You hurt me Ms Rossi, you cut me real deep. The writing is so much more sophisticated than what we experienced in Under The Never Sky - the description is rich and vivid and despite the fact that the world building was a little thin on the ground, I felt draw into this world through the shining characterisation and, at times, some beautiful turn of phrase.
"He lay down, gathering her close. Aria slumped against him, turning her ear to his chest. She listened to his heartbeat - a good, solid sound - as the warmth of his body melted into her. She'd been in a fog earlier. Hallucinating and searching for what was real. She found it in him. He was real."
I'm not sure if I'll ski again. I don't know if I want to take a chance at my last experience being a fluke only to have the next time I give it ago return to a snowy vision of hell on earth. But I'm super excited to read Into The Still Blue for hopefully more of the same snuggly, heartfelt awesomeness.
Ciao for now my friends !!