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- Why I read it: fantasy, witches, moors, good old-fashioned creepy
- Disclosure: Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!
The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.Review:
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.
Remember that book? This spring? The one that killed my childhood and almost drove me to quit book blogging entirely? Yeah. That one. Well, if Two Moon Princess was everything I hate about fantasy, then The Near Witch is (almost) everything I love about it. It's sweeping. Epic. Chilling. Bizarre. I get happy tingles just thinking about it. In other words? I'm happy I didn't quit book blogging. Very.
I try really hard while writing reviews not to make comparisons to other books, and I've already made one. But I'm going to make another anyway, because it really excites me: I kid you not when I say I see the same sort of raw debut talent here that I see when I go back and read Ballad by Maggie Stiefvater. Not quite in the same way - Stiefvater captures more of a modern, snarky voice, while Schwab sticks to straight-up high fantasy on the moors - but the whole time I was reading The Near Witch, my spider sense was tingling. Because I really think this book and this author are going places.
Nowhere did I find this more evident than in the romance, which despite being of the Mysterious Beautiful Stranger variety (which I usually hate), was entirely charming and consuming. I don't like the emphasis so much YA seems to be placing on romance lately - I don't always think it's necessary, and forced romance is 100x worse than no romance at all - but the knack for writing romance well is an excellent one to have and it was so nice to see an author deploy it in a high fantasy story, where any romance tends to be of the bumbling cringeworthy variety.
Schwab showed her chops in the setting, too, which was one of the most startling and memorable that I've read in a long time. There was a constant dread that pervaded everything that reminded me of nothing more than Wuthering Heights, except it also (importantly) never got to the point of depressing. The mystery unfolded at the perfect pace and, really, the whole thing was just astonishingly good. Right up there with What Can(t) Wait in terms of the quality of the debut, and it's so nice to see that the fantasy/supernatural romance genre can still pack a punch when done right (because it's been just about done to death).
It has its flaws, but I don't feel the need to enumerate them, except for one which is not at all the author's fault: that cover. There is no way that cover would stand out to be in a bookstore or that I would want to be seen with it in public. Bad color scheme, odd model, doesn't seem to fit with the story, and just...huh. I'm getting awfully tired of this White Girl In Pretty Dress Making a Face trend on YA covers, publishers. Take note. THIS GIRL IS TIRED.
All in all, it's a gorgeous read that has a lot of merit on its own as a story but perhaps has even more as a showcase of an author to watch. Bravo, Victoria Schwab! Five out of five stars.