When this popped up on Goodreads toward the end of last year, I thought 'Ooh, that's a cool title, picture's kinda neat' and that was the end of it for awhile. I didn't think it was going to be a gotta-have for me. And then during Fairy Tale Fortnight, Bonnie wrangled us an interview with The Near Witch author Victoria Schwab... I hadn't realized The Near Witch had a sort of fairy tale/folkloric element! Add to that the fantasticness of the interview, how much Victoria amuses me on Twitter, and her incredibly awesome author photo, and my interest shot through the roof. So when Disney Hyperion gave me the opportunity to review The Near Witch, my response was a very polite HELL YES.
Excuse me for a moment while I take this opportunity to stare at you through my computer screen.
Did you feel that? That burning, zealous look? I'm sorry if it made you uncomfortable, but I'm trying to mindmeld you into going out and picking this up. And reading it aloud to someone. This book begs to be read aloud like a bedtime story. The language is just so lovely and lyrical. I want to call it poetic, but first - so I don't scare off those of you who see "poetry" and shudder - let me explain what I mean. Poets have such attention to detail and word choice. Every. single. word. a poet uses is meant to be there; it's chosen for not only its exact meaning but for the way it sounds in relation to everything else. The sounds matter just as much, and the way it rolls off your tongue when said aloud. It's musical, in a way, and a teensy bit magical. Victoria Schwab has this kind of mentality, this attention to detail. The things she does with language in this, the way it sounds and the turns of phrase, are so perfectly suited to the story. It's sometimes breathtaking, like your favorite fairy tale told perfectly.
I could probably go on about this for days. I want to sit each of you down around a giant campfire, and pass this book around so we can all read it to each other. So we can glory in the language and the way a good story, well told, makes you feel. Schwab understands the communal nature of storytelling and Lexi, the main character, is a perfect vehicle for it. Lexi's narration weaves the story and all of these important elements together with insight and sympathy and bravery. Through her, the village and the inhabitants and the wild moor come to life beautifully.
Aside from the language and beautiful form of the novel, the story itself is enjoyable. I'm not going to say it's not predictable (there's little these days that is), but it's predictable in the way that fairy tales and folk tales are predictable. You're pretty sure who the good guys and bad guys are, and you're pretty sure there's a lesson to be learned, but it's not necessarily a bad thing to go in knowing. It lends a sense of familiarity to the story, rather than detracting from it. You may sort of know what's going to happen, but it's really all about getting there. The story is in the journey, you know?
I respect Schwab and the story, too, for understanding the gray nature of things, and not presenting it all as black and white. Though many people in the novel may think and act under an Us vs. Them mentality, Lexi and a handful of others realize that there is always more to it, and this is really what drives the story. There is a mystery, yes, and something bad happening, but it's a story about understanding and acceptance more than anything. And it's never heavy-handed with any kind of moral. There is a pervading sense of acceptance and open-mindedness, a knowledge that things once were better and a hope that they can be again. But it's not an afterschool special: it's never didactic with it. It's just that - there is love and it just is. (Does that make any sense?)
The only thing I had questions about was the romance. I like Cole, and I like Lexi's interactions with him. I'm even not opposed to the almost-triangle with Tyler, because it was believable. But I don't know that it was necessary. Or maybe it just didn't need to be amped up quite so much. It almost felt like a split focus, and I think hints of a blossoming attraction and early-stage intrigue would have been plenty. The story only takes place over a few days, afterall, so anything more than an awareness of each other can feel a little melodramatic and silly to me. But I am self-admittedly cold-hearted, so....
(And I did enjoy the two of them together. It is really a minor thing.)
So yeah, that's it. It was lovely and I'm going to be keeping my eye on Schwab to see where she goes from here.
And I don't know why you're reading this when you could be reading The Near Witch...
You can find Victoria online here: