By V.E. Schwab
It’s such a fascinating adventure to read your favorite author’s debut novel. V.E. Schwab is one of those instabuy authors of mine who would put any book out there and I’d preorder with my eyes shut. But the Near Witch was still one of hers that I hadn’t read yet, simply because I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was so excited for the new edition, and reading my favorite author’s first book was so much fun!
The Near Witch’ is only an old story told to frighten children. If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company. There are no strangers in the town of Near. These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life. But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true. The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
A dark and mysterious novel, we follow Lexi, a young girl in a tiny, isolated village on the moors, still mourning the loss of her father. She’s not happy staying at home, she’d rather follow in her father’s footsteps, working and hunting on the moors. When children start disappearing from town à la Pied Piper, Lexi is desperate to find answers to protect her beloved little sister, before she’s next. It doesn’t help that the children start disappearing just when a stranger appears in town, a boy who is more than he looks.
I think this is the first V.E. Schwab book where she uses first person narration. The novel follows a somewhat familiar YA fantasy plot, with a dark, mysterious danger, and a heroine who doesn’t conform. I found it a little odd that in such an old fashioned, puritanical town, we’d have a girl with such a modern name like Lexi, but whatever. She’s a bit – I hate to say this – flat, since her character can be recapped by two traits: not fitting in, and fiercely loving her sister. However, we already see traces of Schwab’s signature voice in the way Lexi stands up to the men in her village, and in the incredible atmosphere she creates.
When I was reading the book, I couldn’t help but feel cold. It’s a perfect ghost story, in the sense that it really does raise goosebumps on your skin, without resorting to cheap horror tricks. It made me feel like I was watching The Crucible – on the Moors of England. The oppressive fear of the ‘other’ makes the air thick and hard to breathe. So while my first reaction to the book was that I could see the plot coming a mile away, I was still transported by it, and blown away (no pun intended) by the subtle worldbuilding. MOORS! WITCHES! MAGIC! HECK YES!
The love story was also a bit flat. Cole is probably my favorite character of the bunch, but it felt super weird to read an instalove here. I was more excited about the actual story of the Near Witch, and wanted to spend more time tracking her down, and learning about her past. I thought there might be an extra twist at the end, but none came. I think it’s why I loved the short story that came after so much – Cole’s point of view, written with the power of Schwab’s writing ten years in the making.
This might be a bit blunt, but I think the best part of reading the Near Witch, now, is seeing how far V.E. Schwab has come since. The Near Witch is good, especially for a debut novel. But compare it to Vengeful… it’s like watching a child grow into a queen. Schwab has grown so much as a writer in the past decade, and it shows. It just makes me even more excited to see what she writes next!
Massive thank you to Titan Books for sending me the new collector’s edition!