Confession time: I resisted and disdained this book at first because the first chapter and a smattering of other sections are in the second person. And I hate that. There’s nothing more irritating than wanting a narrative and getting an experiment–it’s as if the author is dangling a story just out of reach and is instead pelting you with bullshit, capering around yodeling “look what I can do” like a deranged MFA student. Congratulations, you’ve discovered the second person singular. Not many people use it. For a reason.
I’m still not entirely fond of the second person usage here, but I got over it because the rest is phenomenal. Nathan’s voice is one of the rawest I’ve ever read, full of innocence betrayed and misdirected fury. He’s a lost child; he’s a canny schemer; he’s a wounded creature; he’s a gentle young man. He is as many contradictions as teenagers ever are, all turned up to 11.
Nathan is a Half Code, half White witch and half Black witch thanks to his father, the most feared Black witch in England (and possibly the world). Nathan’s never met this villainous legend, but that doesn’t stop almost everyone from assuming he’ll follow the same path. The supreme Council of White Witches restricts his movements and leaves the threat of their judgment hanging over him; the other White witches in his town hate and torment him; even his own sister schemes to find proof of his innate wickedness.
But Nathan isn’t bad. Angry, sure, and frightened, but he’s just as eager for acceptance as any other child. And he finds kindness with his gran and his other siblings, who do their best to support and shield him. They can’t protect him for long, though. Nathan will end up in prison, in a cage, and in fear for both his freedom and his life before it’s all over, and there’s precious little anyone who loves him can do. It’s up to him to find the courage and resilience to endure–and more, to determine how he will respond if and when he finally gets free.
This book is like Harry Potter if Gryffindor and Slytherin were identifiable by physical attributes rather than just the content of their character, and if most Gryffindors were fascists. Oh, sure, Black witches can be self-serving, conniving, and yeah, evil, but White witches are united in their blind hatred. They’re bent on extermination and control, brooking no disagreement or mitigation, and that’s a far scarier thing. No megalomaniac or serial killer will ever be as frightening or cruel as the serried ranks of people convinced they’re angels.
(If you’re into MTG, White and Black here really match well to the color philosophies. But I’ll leave that for our resident Magic expert @cutefuzzy_ to explain.)
It’s difficult to craft a world of such brutal injustice that feels both insane and reasonable: insane to a normal person, but reasonable to someone under the sway of some kind of obsessive ideology. Green nails it here. I was up in arms over Nathan’s treatment, which was heart wrenching but never gratuitous. It made a crazy sort of sense why they would keep him alive but under such miserable conditions. Nathan’s survival became a matter of principle as well as of individual significance, which made the narrative doubly compelling.
If you haven’t already begun this series, now is the perfect time, since the third book will be out in late March and–better still–I’ll be reviewing it and the middle book, Half Wild, here on Geekly. Plus there’s a Rafflecopter giveaway for anyone to enter!