Friday, August 12, 2011
Review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
Lexi lives in the village of Near, surrounded on all sides by miles and miles of hilly, mysterious moor. A village legend tells of a witch who was killed by villagers after a child was found dead in her garden. But when the arrival of a stranger in Near coincides with a string of children’s disappearances, the villagers want this stranger’s blood.
However, Lexi gets to know the mysterious stranger with the powers of the wind, whom she names Cole, and is convinced that he is not involved in the children’s disappearances. But in order to prove Cole’s innocence and save his life, Lexi must find proof of who she suspects the culprit is: the ghost of the Near witch, coming back to take her vengeance on the village.
I’m not usually a fan of being scared, but I make an exception for Victoria Schwab’s gorgeous debut novel THE NEAR WITCH. Reading THE NEAR WITCH is like treating to yourself to a five-star restaurant, with an especially decadent dessert to top it all off: the characters and plot may at times be frustrating, but the very experience of reading this story is worth it.
I’m going to continue with the dessert analogy to describe the writing. Victoria Schwab is like an innovative master pastry chef: she takes common ingredients and spins them together with such intricacy and skill as to create formations we had never dreamed of before. I wanted to bookmark every other page in this book, to be able to go back and reread the surprising yet utterly delightful ways in which Victoria Schwab uses language.
In comparison to the writing, sometimes I felt that the characters and plot were a bit lacking. Because THE NEAR WITCH is so tightly set around one village, the atmosphere and relationships feel intentionally claustrophic. The majority of Lexi’s actions involve running back and forth between houses to figure things out. Sometimes it gets tiring, reading of the ever-increasing cycles of suspicion and desperation chapter after chapter. And some of the “bad guys” feel a little one-sided in their “badness.” But THE NEAR WITCH winds tensions up for a truly creepy resolution that will steal your breath away, an ending that was, in my opinion, worth any character or plot frustrations I had along the way.
THE NEAR WITCH proves itself to be one of the stronger debut novels I’ve read in 2011 so far. It’s a delightful treat for those who think they’re tired of magical books about witches and romance. I’m looking forward to seeing what Victoria Schwab has for us next!
Brenna Yovanoff (The Replacement)
Cath Crowley (A Little Wanting Song)
Cover discussion: Admittedly I am not the biggest fan, although after reading the book I can see how it fits the mood of the story. Still, I imagined a cover that would be a lot...darker.
Hyperion / Aug. 2, 2011 / Hardcover / 288pp. / $16.99
Review copy requested from publisher.