I suspect like most people, I started following Victoria Schwab before her book was even published. I read a snippet of her writing, decided that it was beautiful and that I needed to keep an eye out for her so to speak. I didn’t think I would get an ARC of The Near Witch as living in the UK often has its disadvantages where US authors are concerned but I met a lovely lady from Disney Hyperion at BEA who promised me she would send me a copy, and I believe it came on my birthday which was great timing *grin*. I expected to read another paranormal book about witches but what I got was a major flashback to my childhood love of fairytales. The Near Witch is a fairytale through and through. Set in a little village called Near which is surrounded by moors, it may as well be called Anywhere. Near is along the same vein as “Wall” in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust which in fact is extremely clever as it could be of this earth and it could be in some fantasy land, it doesn’t really matter. Although, the very mention of “moors” has me thinking of England and I can’t help that so I chose to set the book there in my head. The main protagonist is Lexi, a teenage girl with a fierce loyalty to her family and much love for her little sister Wren. Her late father used to tell them tales of The Near Witch and she regales in repeating it to Wren who often requests the story before bed. A mysterious stranger arrives in town the same night children start disappearing from their beds and you can guess where fingers are pointing. But Lexi suspects there is more to this stranger than meets the eye and with the help of the two sisters (i.e. the two old witches left in the village) she works to unravel the mystery of the missing children and find out what the stranger has to do with it.
What I absolutely loved about this story is that Lexi is a normal girl. She does not have any special super powers, she doesn’t have a lost family heritage and she doesn’t stick out in society as anything extraordinary. She could be you or me. That’s not to say that she isn’t intelligent, imaginative, loyal and willing to see good in people and perhaps these are the greatest gifts of all. She is willing to find out more about Cole, the stranger at a time when most people want to string him up by the neck. Lexi is willing to ask questions first before shooting the blame in his direction. Cole is a troubled soul no doubt but Lexi (the girl with no special powers remember) DOES seem to have power over him as she slowly captivates him.
The novel is littered with secondary characters, two of my favourites were indeed the sisters and I kept imagining the sisters in Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I also enjoyed Lexi’s mother whose strength which was thought forgotten, shines through at pivotal moments.
Victoria’s writing is simply beautiful, breathtaking in fact. It’s very dreamy and lyrical and I would say that she does the most elegant dance with words. The way she describes the wind turned it into a character of its own and I never imagined that there was so much to say about one aspect of the weather. I feel like I have been taught a valuable writing lesson.
This book is not unputdownable, rather I think it is designed to be read slowly and steadily. It’s a book that you look forward to reading, a book that you would be begging your older sister to read you before bed if you weren’t old enough to do it yourself! The Near Witch is the first book where I’ve seriously considered buying the audio book, for the sheer enjoyment of having someone read it to me but don’t tell anyone!
The Near Witch is a beautiful debut novel and a refreshing read in that it’s so different from a lot of what’s already out there on the shelves. If you love fairytales like I do, then this is definitely the book for you.
The Near Witch was released on 2nd August, 2011. Thank you to Disney Hyperion for sending me an ARC. To find out more about Victoria, click here to visit her website. She is also active on facebook and Twitter.