Monday, July 11, 2011

Book Review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Publisher: Hyperion Books CH
Pages: 288
Received: ARC from publisher, via NetGalley
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Page


From Goodreads:

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.

Bottom line

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!

Looking for another book like this? 
You might like: 

Click on the covers to go to Goodreads.


  1. Well, this certainly sounds like a book to look into at some point. Just for the storytelling alone if nothing else.

  2. I have this on Netgalley too and I'm really excited to read it now! An awesome story, a guy I'll probably like (cause i do like Sam), and a mix of genres sounds like a good read for me.

  3. I haven't looked too seriously at this book because I read somewhere that it was pretty creepy. But it seems like you really enjoyed it, so should I take a second look?

  4. The way you describe this, it sounds like a potential 5 Stars from me. I just love the way you describe the storytelling element. I know I will love it. And fortunately for me, Cole sounds exactly like my kind of guy so that's where I think I could like this book more than you did. And a standalone, really? I didn't even know those existed anymore.

  5. Happy you liked it. Makes me excited to read it :)

    And you are not the first one who says that had problem with the love interest or connecting with the characters. I've read other reviews mentioned it as well.

  6. I have been hearing lots of good things about The Near Witch. I can't wait to read it even more now after your amazing review. And I don't mind a damaged, sad and shy male lead. I always seem to like the flawed male characters.

  7. I've been hearing great things about this book! Nice to know that despite a romantic lead that didn't make you weak in the knees, the overall story was still 4-star worthy:) Really looking forward to this one!

  8. I'm really looking forward to reading The Near Witch - I'm really happy it's a standalone too because that means not having to wait months and months to find out what happens next. Glad you enjoyed it!

  9. I think I agree with you about Cole, I didn't swoon for him either.
    But I did love that Near would have been any village :D And yeah, it has some very nice, kind of ye olde story telling to it :D

  10. You know my bubble of interest splatters when I hear the love interest doesn't inspire swooning.

    I love the honesty of your reviews, backhanded compliments and all. Atmosphere may steal the show but sometimes that is what makes the story so unique.

  11. I haven't heard of this one, but it sounds like one I would really enjoy.

  12. This one sounds good, but I'm not sure if it's the book for me. On one hand, I love anything gothic or with a psychological edge, but I'm not a fan of fantasy of medieval settings. I much prefer contemporary settings.

    Also, the love interest, I'm really not sure if he'd appeal to me. Sam from Shiver bores me. So, I dunno if I should pick this one up.

    I have seen a lot of positive reviews. I think I'm just being really picky with my reading lately!

  13. This has been languishing in my review pile, but now I have to read it asap. I love the spooky setting and mystery stuff. Sounds like it would make a great movie!

  14. Amazing review!!! I liked Sam from Wolves of Mercy Falls, so I will probably find Cole plenty swoonworthy.

    Also, the way you've described this book makes it sound just the teensiest bit like M. Night Shymalayan's The Village. Or The Forest of Hands and Teeth (at least in the beginning)

  15. Bookish Hobbit, Oh yes, definitely a great example of storytelling.

    Bookworm1858, I hope you like it! I think if you like Sam then you’ll probably like Cole. I do like him, he just doesn’t make me swoon.

    Pica, Hm, it’s more psychologically creepy than gory or horror-story creepy. I’m a wimp and I was fine with it.

    Aylee, I know, I was starting to think standalone books were extinct! I hope you love it.

    Yiota, I did hear that some people had trouble connecting with the characters, but I hadn’t heard about the love interest. Good to know. I hope you love it!

    Nic, I think you might like it and Cole :)

    Jenny, Oh yes, definitely 4 star worthy. I am so happy Victoria Schwab decided to be an author.

    Liz, Exactly! It was such a relief to read a great story that could be told neatly and completely in one book.

    Alex, Yeah, I was thinking about your review when I was writing the drawbacks for me. Ye olde storytelling is a great way to describe it!

    Missie, Aw, I know. My bubble bursts too then, but I think you might actually like him. You like Sam, right? I try to be honest :) The atmosphere here really does stand out. It rises and falls with the events of the story. It would make Hitchcock proud.

    Mrs. Q, I hope you like it!

    Leanna, Hm, I’m not sure. It’s definitely not contemporary, but Lexi has a very contemporary vibe in a lot of ways. She’s ahead of her time. I’d say maybe give it a shot? The atmosphere and psychological creep are done really well. Sam bores me too, so you might be bored with Cole, too. He’s not the central focus of the book though.

    Logan, Go read it! It's better than Legacy. I promise :) I could totally see it as a movie, but of course Hollywood would probably mess it up and I'd hate it because I'd be all, "That's so not how it happened" But, yeah, it could make a good movie :P

    Madigan, Thanks! I think you would like Cole a lot then. He doesn't write songs though. Hm, I haven't seen The Village (too much of a wimp) but I did read the beginning of The Forest of Hands and Teeth and I can see the connection. The sort of society you think is good is really pretty messed up thing.

  16. I have this on my shelf so I have to bump it up now!

    Teens Read and Write

  17. I'm really excited to read this book now. I've heard good things but you're review has basically pushed it into the 'purchase' category as opposed to 'wait until the library has it'.

  18. Did I read right? Spartans? Library of Antiquities? Find the map and lets go! I haven't even looked at this one, but leave it to you to find another one for me to salivate over!
    Great review! Too bad the details weren't given. I'd love some details on Valkyries and Ninjas! Thanks for another one on my TBR!


  19. I've heard nothing but good things about this one and finally got approved for it from NetGalley so I'm looking forward to reading it myself, especially the climax.

  20. I love books that defy genre. I'll have to add this to my list. It might even remind me of "Wuthering Heights" if only for the moors and mystery. Ha! I knew I could fit one of my fav. books in there somewhere...

    Great review. I'll be adding this to my list.

  21. I've wanted to read this one very badly, I updated my profile on NG and still was denied a second time. I guess if I really want it I need to buy it for myself.

  22. Oh my word, this one sounds amazing! I've had it on my wish list since I first heard about it and can't wait for it to be released.

  23. Alyssa, Definitely bump it up! It’s so good. And a standalone, so you don’t have to worry about it taking tons of time to read.

    Scarlett, I hope you enjoy it!

    Heather, Haha, yup, you read right! I wish there were more details, but maybe in the next book. Hope you like it!

    A Canadian Girl, Oh good! Glad you hear you got approved for it. I hope you like the climax as much as I did.

    Book Geek, Me too. I can see a Wuthering Heights vibe with the atmosphere :)

    Gina, It sounds like Disney-Hyperion has mysterious approval/denial criteria. Someone said they will only give to people with 1,000+ followers, but I don’t have nearly that many! I can’t really make any sense of it.

    The Slowest Bookworm, I hope you like it! I was really pleased.

  24. It was really strange. I've not been denied a single booknfrom anyone until them. Well once I was denied Imaginary Girls, but theyvsaid it was because they'd already given out their allotted number of copies.

    What is even more strange is I was able to be approved for Artemis Fowl, which is Disney-Hyperion Book, too. So I'm really confused.

    I did win a gift certificate from Amazon from Missie at The Unread Reader. Maybe I will use that to buy this one when it comes out.

  25. This sounds like a good book! Although it's a shame you didn't 'feel' the romance and the guy, it can ruin a book and really 'downgrade' what you thought of it, or so l have discovered.


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