Release Date: August 2, 2011
Publisher: Hyperion Books CH
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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.
And 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. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
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.
Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.
What it means to be a storyteller
Do you remember when you were young? Before quizzes and homework, essays and Cliff's notes entered into your world? A time before reviews and critiques and the concept of high or low brow books was ever a thought? A time when reading was storytelling and the words on the pages took you on journeys of the imagination?
For me, The Near Witch captured the innocence and wonderment of what it was like to be a child listening to a well-spun story. This was the kind of book that stoked my imagination, held my attention, and then left me with the satisfied sigh of a story well-told and neatly ended.
What genre is this?
The Near Witch defies genres. It takes place in "generic English-like medieval village," like many fantasies, and includes the richly imaginative elements of classic storytelling found in fairy tales. Also present is the thick and spooky atmosphere of a Gothic horror, complete with ghostly vibes, mood-setting weather, and eerie moors.
The mystery genre also makes an appearance, with the puzzle of the disappearing children keeping suspense levels high. The ever looming threat to Lexi's own adorably innocent younger sister left me gripped with fear every nightfall and wrung out with sickening relief each morning I discovered she had been spared.
But don't let what I just said be a comfort to you, because no one is safe in the town of Near. Peril follows everyone, with danger coming from multiple corners. The chilling atmosphere and tension are cranked up to 11, but what makes The Near Witch so frightening comes as much from the supernatural predators as from the very natural human elements.
It is this dash of psychological terror that adds a much appreciated depth to The Near Witch. Like the fog on the moors, obscuring edges and leeching colors so that everything is hazy and blanketed in gray, the heroes and villains of The Near Witch are equally blurred. While this works to add sympathy and depth to the villains, it also unsettled me further as I realized there was no safe haven for Lexi.
If I could change one thing...
Honestly, it would be the romantic lead. I know, disappointing, right? For me, I just wasn't feeling the guy. He was the "damaged, sad, and (really) shy" kind of guy, and that's just not my thing. I liked him as a character, but I didn't *love* him as a romantic interest. So that's where most of my 1 star comes off. I do think he will appeal to a lot of people though (especially fans of Sam from the Wolves of Mercy Falls series), so don't let me put you off.
Since I didn't swoon for Cole, I found the romance distracting from the main mystery. Lexi is so determined and brave as she tried to track down the cause of the missing children. I wanted her to stay focused on this 100%, but instead she splits her focus between this task and her growing feelings for Cole. Her feelings do grow at a very nice pace and they don't overwhelm the plot at all, so you don't have to worry about any silly insta-love or monopolizing romance.
My only other teensy, tiny complaint is that I had a difficult time connecting with the characters. This is sort of a backhanded compliment, but the atmosphere was so rich and so alive that I actually think it took away from the characters for me. Instead of identifying with Lexi and feeling what she felt, I connected with the melancholy mood of the atmosphere. It wasn't until I finished the book and had time to separate from the atmosphere and really let the whole story settle with me that I grew to fully appreciate all that I had read.
Definitely a keeper. The pacing was steady--never brisk, but not slow either--with creeping tension building as the story progressed. The very beginning was a touch slow for me, but I was fully invested as soon as the children started disappearing. What really stood out for me the most were the scenes in the woods and the climax. That was when I felt the most gripped by the story and, wow, that climax was so visually spectacular! It made the whole book worth reading just so I can carry around that haunting visual in my head.
The Near Witch is a standalone and I think it is the perfect length for the story it contains. Victoria Schwab's next book is called The Archived, and I'm already impatiently awaiting its release (oh 2012, please hurry up and get here). I hope Victoria has a long and prolific career as an author, because I'm hooked.
Explanation of rating system: Star Rating Key
Do you have any questions about The Near Witch that I haven't addressed?
Feel free to ask in the comments!
Feel free to ask in the comments!
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