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Review: The Near Witch

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

3/5 stars

This is Schwab's first novel, originally published in 2011, then republished in 2019 after she became famous. Having read some of her more recent works, this definitely feels like a debut novel. She was still finding her feet as a storyteller, but her powers of description and atmosphere-creation were already strong.

Sixteen year old Lexi lives with her mother and younger sister in the small town of Near, just next to a dark and broodish moor. Her father is dead, her mother is sad and withdrawn, and her oafish uncle Otto thinks Lexi should stick to the kitchen, instead of following in her hunter-father's footsteps. The only point on which everyone seems to agree in Near is that there are no strangers. Everyone knows everyone. So when a stranger shows up in town, people take notice. And when the town's children start disappearing from their beds, their immediate assumption is that the stranger is to blame. But what if it's something far more ancient and "of the moor"? Like many great YA novels, the child is the only one who can find the truth! Lexi dons her father's old boots and hunting knife, and sneaks out to find the children, and prove to the town that there is something otherworldy to overcome.

The book has a fairytale feel in it's simplicity, and I think it would translate really well into a movie or tv mini-series. The story is fun but uncomplicated, and the spaces she creates are vivid. Schwab knows how to create a creepy ambiance! A filmmaker would have lots of cool visuals to work with, and wouldn't have to cut much to make the story work on screen. The plot was underdeveloped - not a whole lot happens for a book of it's size! - and the characters' motivations weren't fleshed out well enough for them to be believable. Also, the breakneck speed with which our heroine and her hero fall in love was Romeo & Juliet-esque (I just met you! I love you! I'd die for you!)... I'm not a big fan of that brand of romance. There's also a character who is Lexi's age who just kind of gets away with being an awful little prick who's clearly going to grow up to be a misogynistic abuser. He was gross, and he didn't get any comeuppance for it, nor did he seem to learn any lessons.

If you haven't read any of Schwab's books, go for the Shades of Magic series or her latest book, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (which I reviewed here). If you have already read a lot of her work, then go for it! This book was easy and fun. And the 2019 edition also includes a short story called The Ash-Born Boy - a prequel of sorts, revealing the back story for one of the characters in The Near Witch.


UP NEXT: Red at the Bone, by Jacqueline Woodson

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