Review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Book: The Near Witch
Author: Victoria Schwab
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Release date: August 2, 2011
Source: ARC from NetGalley

Summary: (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 â?? a boy who seems to fade like smoke â?? 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 Lexiâ??s need to know â?? 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 Schwabâ??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 wonâ??t soon forget.

First impressions: The immediacy of the present tense used in this narrative really drew me in. Victoria Schwab has an elegant way of writing that I found beautiful and hypnotic.

Lasting impressions: I couldn’t connect with this one beyond the likable prose, however. I never fell in love with Cole, or even believed that Lexi truly had, and the story moved a bit slow for my tastes.

Conflicting impressions: I thought missing children would be enough to keep me interested, but the stakes never felt high enough for me to care about the outcome.

Overall impressions: This is one book where I am absolutely certain that the only reason I disliked it was because I just wasn’t feeling it. I can tell it’s a well-crafted, unique, and beautiful tale. I can see where some people would get really into this one and love it. For me, it fell a bit flat.

The setting, a secluded small town named Near located next to a spooky moor, is perfect. I loved the opening, when Lexi introduces us to local folklore about the old Near Witch who died long ago and is inextricably linked to the town’s history. The first chapter is Lexi telling a bedtime story to her young sister, Wren, about the Near Witch. It’s a quiet, intimate moment that made me want to curl up in front of a fire and keep reading.

The beginning was so good, in fact, that I think it set up my ultimate disappointment by the time I got to the end. Schwab’s writing is dripping with detail, painting clear images in your mind, but without getting bogged down. It’s the kind of writing you want to sip, and languish in, not hurry through to find out what happens next. Yet I still needed something to keep me turning the pages. Instead, I felt like I was fighting reading inertia, and that the more I read, the less I could actually continue to consume. Then I’d put it down and struggle to pick it back up. It was frustrating.

As the story continues, a stranger arrives in Near, and the children of the village start turning up missing from their beds late at night. The town quickly turns on this mysterious visitor, as strangers are not welcome in Near. Lexi, however, refuses to blindly join this lynch mob, and starts her own investigation into the strange events happening in Near. Lexi is headstrong and stubborn, refusing to listen to her somewhat controlling uncle, who just wants her to stay in the house where he feels she’ll be safe. She disobeys him consistently, sneaking off to meet Cole (the stranger) or visit the homes where the children have gone missing. She wants to stop what’s happening, not only because she knows these kids, but because she witnessed her own sister nearly escape through the window late at night.

Lexi’s protective instinct didn’t ring quite as true for me. I thought she was just nosy and curious. She seemed more determined to prove Cole’s innocence than to protect her sister, and it bothered me that she got so swept up in the new boy in town. I felt they had no chemistry, and the romance that blossoms between them just didn’t do it for me. He was an interesting character in his own right and I didn’t get why he needed to also be a love interest.

The middle dragged on far too long for me. I had to struggle to get through this one, because neither the mystery itself, nor the beautiful prose, was enough to keep me hooked. The mystery is not much of a mystery as it turns out, and the story is much more effective as a lesson in how folklore and mass hysteria can influence human behavior, particularly in exclusive communities. Yet even this facet of the story seemed underdeveloped. While the overall tale is an interesting one, the details couldn’t hold my attention long enough to get through more than a few pages at a time.

I recommend this one to fans of witch and folk tales, but this one just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5 stars

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