Nothing like a spooky read to get into the Halloween mood!
The Near Witch was actually VE Schwab’s first published novel, now republished in a new edition containing a companion short story, “The Ash-Born Boy.” While it is not as strong as her later fantasy novels that I have read and enjoyed, The Near Witch had a wonderful atmosphere as well as some good characters and themes that were reminiscent of classic YA dark fantasy tales.
The story begins when a stranger comes to the village of Near, a place where there are no strangers, and soon children begin to be called away to the moors in the middle of the night. The main character Lexi must hurry to find the children and keep her sister safe, but to do that she must first unravel the mystery of the stranger and the local legend of the Near Witch.
There were many things I liked about the story, including the setting and the fantasy elements. The magic has a vague, fairy-tale-like quality. Lexi had some really good moments, and the villain is at once creepy and relatable. I really liked the theme of how fear of the unknown can hurt rather than help. Overall, the story brought to mind elements of The Hunger Games, CLAMP’s manga Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, the movies of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, and the stories of Diana Wynne Jones.
However, the book is not as epic or sophisticated as her later novels. I thought the plot meandered a bit, moving in fits and starts, and sometimes was a bit frustrating and repetitive. And while the romantic elements were sweet, it definitely is a case of insta-love.
I enjoyed the short story at the end as much if not more; it reveals the backstory of one of the novel’s characters. It has a slightly different feel but was a good addition.
So, if you’re looky for a spooky read this October, The Near Witch definitely fits the bill, but I wouldn’t call it a must-read unless you are a really big fan of VE Schwab.