...it’s the name of the most evil Black Witch there has ever been.”
I want to say “Marcus.” He’s my father and I want to say his name, but I’m too afraid. I’m always too afraid to say his name.
Oh, hi, Voldemort!
This book is Snape: The Teenage Years. Only without much magic. WHERE'S MY MOTHERFUCKING MAGIC? Is it too much to ask for magic in a book about WITCHES?! If I'm going to read Dracula, I want some fucking vampires, and I want them to suck the blood hell out of some humans. If I'm going to read about witches, I want some fucking hocus pocus shit, ok?
This is basically the story of Harry Potter's Severus Snape, if Voldemort had been his daddy. He's also got a Lily to comfort him.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will find the setting in this world quite familiar, which is good, because the setting in this book is very poorly built. This book has excellent character development, a sympathetic main character (OH COME ON, WHO DOESN'T LOVE SNAPE?!), but almost no magic at all for a book with witches. The plot is vague, the setting is unclear, it's well-written for a character insight, but that's the limit of this book.
The plot is long-winded, and there's not much of it. There are a lot of beatings, a lot of torture, a lot of discrimination and hate, a lot of angst, and not a whole lot of story or world-building. The book was just all over the fucking place.
Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way: there are a lot of similarities to Harry Potter in this book, but there is no comparison with the original series. In this book, we have a corrupt Council (HP's Ministry of Magic), we have Hunters (Aurors), we have the Pure (Purebloods), a term for non-magical humans, Fain (Muggles), and for god's sakes, we have a Cobalt Alley...
The beginning of this book is confusing as fuck. This was literally my reaction for the first 10% of the book:
Hang in there. It gets better.
The Summary: Some people have the worst fucking luck in the world. Meet Nathan Byrn. He is Half-Black. No, it doesn't mean he's got African ancestry, it means that he is half Black Witch. His father is a notorious Black Witch, a murderer of hundreds. A name reviled by the White Witch community. As his son, Nathan is despised. Nobody loves him but (most of) his immediate family. Not his mother, because his mother is dead. Dead because of him.
“She’s dead because of you.”
I back against the wall.
Jessica shouts at me. “She killed herself because of you!”
His oldest sister reviles him. His other siblings and Gran love him and try to protect him, but they can only do so much against a world that is inclined to discriminate against those with Half Black blood.
This is not a happy book. Throughout the book, we see how the world turns against Nathan. From his own sister, who constantly tries to intimidate him, to the bullies at school, who pound him into the ground.
Niall catches me on the side of the head with the brick and Connor is clinging on to me.
Then I get rammed in my back, which must be with the brick again.
It reverberates down my spine and stops me dead.
I’ve been hammered into the tarmac like a nail.
Pain and misery and torture. That is the extent of Nathan's life. It never stops.
He puts the point back into my left shoulder blade and I clench my jaw and scream while he makes another cut.
He stops again and says, “You should have listened to him.”
He makes another slow cut.
And I am going mad screaming and praying for someone to make him stop.
But he makes another cut and then another and all I can do is scream and pray.
Even his mentor is more prisoner than friend.
The routine is the same as ever. And so is the cage. And so are the shackles. The choker is still on, loose but there. If I try to leave, I’ll die, no doubt about it.
It never seems to end.
I scream and curse him and move my finger as much as I can but the ring tightens and the needle goes into me again.
As it comes out I’m sweating.
He moves on to the top of my finger, over the fingernail. The needle goes through again.
That's pretty much the entire book. There is a lot of torture, a lot of pain, and some very vague plans to find his daddy. He-Who-Must-Be-Named. Actually, his name is Marcus.
So I must go to him.
I must go and find my father.
The Setting: Vague as fuck. There is just no background. It is a contemporary English setting, without much of the setting at all. I wouldn't have known besides the fact that they watch "the telly." The existence of witches doesn't really make any impression, because the book acts like "oh, everyone knows it, there's no need for any sort of information whatsoever." So BOOM. No setting. We know there's a vague...Council. We know that there are Hunters.
Hunters are the elite group of White Witches employed by the Council to hunt down Black Witches in Britain. Gran says they are employed by other Councils in Europe more and more as there are so few Blacks left in Britain. Hunters are mainly women, but include a few talented male witches. They are all ruthless and efficient.
And as you can tell from that passage, the world building is terribly trite and mundane; there's no evocative writing here.
I'm glad that I read Harry Potter first, because the world setting is very similar, in that magic is apparently an inherited trait, delivered by blood on a Witch's 17th birthday.
1. Almost no magic at all within the book
2. No history, no background
3. An unclear reason as to why the fuck Black witches are so bad. If someone were to tell you "Oh, XXX is a terrible person," you wouldn't just buy their words for it. You'd want to know why the fuck that is. There's not much of an explanation for why Black Witches are so reviled in this book. We know that Marcus, the most evil one, kills and steals magic. Do they all do that?
The Black Witches in this book are the Boogeyman. They're just a vague presence in the background to scare children. That's it.
The Plot: There is not much of a plot here. We see Nathan from up, from a child, to a 17-year old. He gets tortured. He runs away. That's it. There is no huge, compelling, overwhelming plot, and the main clue that we were given turned out to be a red herring because the book didn't turn out at all the way I expected it to go ased on the hints.
Nathan: I felt incredibly bad for the main character of the book. This truly is Severus Snape, the teenaged years. Everyone hates him. He is small, puny, and unlike Snape, Nathan is dumb as fuck. In secondary school, he is barely literate. Here's a sample of his writing:
i hava bordr and sisser my bordrs Arran
he is niss and Debsis clvrer
He gets bullied. He gets beaten. Thankfully, he has a Lily (named Annalise) to befriend him. A beautiful, clever, kind girl.
Annalise has long blonde hair that glistens like melted white chocolate over her shoulders. She has blue eyes and long pale eyelashes. She smiles a lot, revealing her straight, white teeth. Her hands are impossibly clean, her skin is the color of honey, and her fingernails gleam.
Annalise is a Pure blood, in the HP Universe, we would call her a Slytherin. A kind Slytherin.
I hold out my picture. “What do you think? Now it’s finished.”
I’m prepared for her to say something horrible, laugh at it or at me. But I don’t think she’ll do that.
She smiles and says, “It’s really good.”
Nathan is so lonely. His other siblings, Deborah, and Arran, love him, but that's not enough when he knows that the entire Witch world hates him for his father's blood. Nathan constantly dreams of his father. Wild, impossible dreams that give him hope.
It is a secret story that I tell myself when I’m in bed at night. My father is not evil at all; he is powerful and strong. And he cares about me . . . he loves me. And he wants to bring me up as his true son, to teach me about witchcraft, to show me the world. But he is constantly persecuted by White Witches who give him no opportunity to explain. But he is waiting for the right time to come for me and take me away with him.
Nathan is so hideously persecuted. Nobody wants him. Nobody believes him.
Of course I know. I know that even if I don’t fight, even if I avoid Annalise, even if I get on my knees and lick Niall’s and Connor’s boots, it will make no difference; they will do what they like and say what they like, and what they say will be believed.
He is unsure about his nature: White or Black. But it's all up to his personal choice:
"You aren’t evil, Nathan. Nothing about you is evil. You will have a powerful Gift—we can all see that—but it’s how you use it that will show you to be good or bad."
Recommended with reservations.