Description: "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--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.
Review: The Near Witch is Victoria Schwab's debut novel, but I couldn't help but wonder if it would have more of a lasting impression if it was written in the novel in verse format. My curiosity of the format change is based on the fact that The Near Witch has great, beautiful passages dedicated to the moors, the night, and the wind but it lacks in plot. Lexi Harris is our heroine. She wants to be "of" the moor, but she is unsure how to obtain her dreams. Her father, who she thought held the secret, is dead, her mother has withdrawn, and her brutish uncle Otto is unsympathetic to Lexi's aspirations. The only one that seems to be on Lexi's side is her sister Wren, but she's too young to fully comprehend Lexi's struggles. Uncle Otto comes across as mean and strict uncle who would like Lexi to be nothing more than a "proper" girl in learning ways around the house and to be responsive to the advances of Tyler Ward so she could be a suitable wife. Lexi, however, would rather buckle on her father's hunting knife and visit the shunned and dangerous witch sisters, Magda and Dreska Thorne.
The plot of the book takes form when a mysterious, handsome stranger that Lexi seems to only see, comes to the village of Near, and children begin vanishing from their beds. Lexi is of course intrigued by the stranger and after a few encounters with him, they develop a friendship that quickly turns into a romance. Lexi is determined to solve the mystery, but not for the sake of the children, but more so because she feels her love interest is innocent. Schwab puts more emphasis on mood and atmosphere than on plot. As a result, I grew restless with the story and began to skim parts of the description just to get the story going. I didn't really feel any connection to any of the characters as I found them to fit neat into character tropes, while some of them are intriguingly sketched they are underdeveloped and don't really fully realize into three dimensional characters.
Given the time dedicated to the descriptions surrounding the setting of the village/city of Near, I was amazed on how little world building details we are given. For example, The village has guns, but no other technology, while the fear of witches suggests a medieval time. The presence of actual witchcraft suggests a whole other world from today's, but further world-building is neatly side-stepped by making the town isolated. Schwab's use of present-tense, first-person narration heightens the sense of unreality, as though Lexi is less a fully realized person than a character the reader inhabits in a dream. Overall, The Near Witch is a decent debut that isn't very memorable. Though marketed as young adult, I think older elementary and middle schoolers who aren't ready for the popular paranormal romances such as Twilight and the like would enjoy this story. I would recommend this story to young readers who like a light paranormal mystery story. Schwab has talent and I'm looking forward to reading more of her books.
Rating: 3 stars
Words of Caution: There are some disturbing images. Recommended for strong Grades 5 readers and up.
If you like this book try: The Revenant by Sonia Gensler, We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni, The Old Willis Place by Mary Downing Hahn