Review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab



Where did you get the book: E-arc from Netgalley

Publisher: Disney Hyperion

Release Date: Out now


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.

*Blurb taken from Goodreads*

Children have recently gone missing in the village of Near, but their disappearances are blamed on the arrival of a mysterious pale boy who is seen around the surrounding areas. However, a young girl, Lexi, suspects that this isn’t the case and that a darker force that lives in the moors is to blame and that the stranger, Cole, is the only person who can help the villagers. But when Lexi’s sister is the next child to go missing, there is a hunt against time before the Near Witch can claim her next victim.

Within the first few pages of The Near Witch I really enjoyed the lyrical prose which really stood out and helped to create a tense and haunting tone. However, I did find it hard to get into the story and the characters. I wished there was more explanation on the setting and the surrounding lands around Near. Although there were mentions of other villages, there wasn’t much of an explanation on the outside world and I was left wondering how could Near survive without much contact from other villagers, especially since they were so mistrustful of outsiders. And there was no sign of trade or intermarrying with other villagers and the village was pretty small, and to me this didn’t make much sense. I did get the atmospheric feel which was creepy and claustrophobic and in a lot of ways it felt that it had almost like a purgatory feel, especially how it related to the legend of the Witch on the surrounding moors and how she had affected the villagers of Near for such a long time.

Nonetheless, I felt when Cole first appeared the story started to get bogged down in pace and although I liked the mystery aspect to his character, there wasn’t much depth to his wraith like appearance — although I did like that aspect to the book because it did fit in with the haunting tone.  Lexi, on the other hand, was much more well developed and I liked her independent spirit, and her determination to hunt for the truth behind the disappearances of the children.  Lexi wants to become a tracker, and to follow her deceased father’s footsteps who also died mysteriously on the moors. But her desire to being a tracker and her fascination with the surrounding moors  is frowned upon by her uncle who sees it as unseemly for a girl and too dangerous. He also forbids her to join in on the search and investigation on the missing children. Lexi, though, disregards his orders and soon suspects that the legendary spirit of the witch — who died years before — is the one behind the missing children.

The weakest point of the story had to be the love story between Cole and Lexi. Like I said before, I found Cole to be pretty one-dimensional and I really felt disconnected to his characterisation. I also couldn’t see much of a connection between him and Lexi, although he is mysterious and different from the boys she knows in the village, and I could see that appeal. But the emotional connection was too quick to form between them and not enough focus exploring the romance. So much time was spent on the mystery aspect of his origins, and Lexi’s desire to track him down in the first book, which is another aspect on why I felt the pace was too slow in the first half of the book.  I felt that this was a lost potential because the love story was interesting because it did have an ethereal feel, but the romance didn’t fully work for me.

But the second half of the book picked up in pace and it was pretty chilling in tone. I was definitely creeped out by the tales of the witch and imagery that the characters and story conveyed. The prose really adds to this, for example: when Lexi gains help from two elderly sisters, who are witches, who warns Lexi about the Near Witch. It created a haunting and vivid atmosphere.

‘Again the sisters speak in their intertwining way.

“She climbed up and out onto the moor,” Says Dreska.
“Now her skin really is made of moor grass,” adds her sister.
“Now her blood is made of moor rain.”
“Now her voice is made of moor wind.”
“Now the Near Witch is made of moor.”
“And she is furious.”

The Sisters’ words echo through the cottage, winding like steam around us. ‘

Despite the slow half and vague world-building, The Near Witch is beautifully written with a haunting and stark tone filled with memorable imagery. I just wished the first half was much stronger in pace and more time spent on expanding on the romance.  I did enjoy it although expect a slow start and pace to the story. But the elements of dark chilling horror and almost fairytaleque tone gives this book a different feel to a lot of fantasy romance YAs that I have read.

I give The Near Witch a C

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