Schwab, Victoria. The Near Witch. 288 p. Hyperion. 2011. Hardcover $16.99. ISBN 9781423137870
So, I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into this book. It's puzzling, because it's beautifully written and so very atmospheric. Who knows why I didn't connect with it as much as I'd hoped to? I suspect I may be the wrong reader at the wrong time. Maybe it's a winter book when I wanted a summer book.
I kept quibbling with the setting at first. The descriptions of the moors are lush and lyrical, and but I couldn't quite get my head around the details-- is it historical fantasy set in our world? Or is it supposed to be another world entirely? If it's our world, what's the time period? Why is this village so isolated? Why do characters say "okay" while all of their other speech is fairly timeless?
I mean, honestly. Any other reader would probably not find these questions to be an issue at all-- I'm placing the blame squarely on myself, here. It's not YOU, book, it's ME! It really is.
Indeed, there's a lot to love about this novel. The plot is riveting, starting out as a whodunnit mystery, like Nancy Drew on the moors, when children start disappearing from the town of Near. Then it kind of turns into an awesome episode of Supernatural when it becomes clear to our heroine, the brave and headstrong Lexi, that the abductions can't be stopped by normal means. There's a well-paced, believable romance with a tortured, brooding hero, and the characterizations are consistently well-rounded-- even the antagonists are impressively three-dimensional. My favorite aspect of the book, though, is the stunning depiction of characters who are intimately connected with nature and the elements. I have several Pagan friends, and I kept thinking, "Oh, so-and-so would love this!" I really can't wait to share it with them-- I think they'd feel so at home with this book, and that makes me happy.
All in all, The Near Witch is a masterfully crafted debut novel, available in bookstores on August 2. ARC for review provided by the publisher via NetGalley. I'm purchasing a copy for my library and look forward to recommending it to fantasy fans who will absolutely love it.