Book review: The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

Synopsis

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:

Reworking fairy tales in a popular theme in YA, but Virginia’s Schwab’s The Near Witch stands out in its uniqueness: she has written her own new tale full of folklore, timeless themes and paranormal hauntings.

Like her late father, Lexi is drawn to the windswept moors that surround her village of Near, the same moors that harbor the first stranger she’s ever seen. He gets the blame when children begin disappearing from their beds, but Lexi knows it’s a ruse to settle the minds of the villagers. The truth is, no one knows who or what is calling to the children in the night.

Not satisfied with the foolish men in charge of protecting Near, Lexi and the stranger–who she names Cole–set out to clear his name and find the truth behind the creepy disappearances. And it is creepy.

The witches in Lexi’s world don’t wear pointy hats and ride brooms. They are much more in tune with the earth and it’s elements, and to varying degrees, they are able to bend the elements to their wills. This makes for a very earthy and realistic tale in contrast to, say, Harry Potter.

I loved seeing Lexi’s logical approach to the mystery, using skills she learned from her father before the moors claimed him, too. She’s a great contrast to the bumbling good ‘ole boys who want nothing more than to look like heroes and put the village at ease as quickly as possible, even if it means condemning an innocent person.

That innocent person turns out to be critical in finding the children, and his broken nature endears him to both Lexi and readers.

There were a few drawbacks to The Near Witch, the main one being the underdevelopment of a few critical characters. It was hard to get a grasp on Lexi’s bereaved mother and her uncle, Otto. It’s not clear whether he’s a good guy or a bad guy. He wants to protect Lexi (good guy), but he also treats her poorly and serves as a lesser antagonist (bad guy).

The “black moment” and ending also seemed quite rushed. I was expecting a bigger, longer final battle but it was summed up in a few short paragraphs that left me wondering if I’d accidentally skipped a page.

Regardless, The Near Witch is an excellent tale for those who like to be frightened by urban legends and Grimm-esque fairy tales. It’s one of those books that’s best read late at night in bed with a flashlight.

The Near Witch is in stores now.

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