It starts with a crack, a sputter, and a spark – V.E. Schwab.
Not many books get to have a second chance. Usually, if people don’t grab hold of it with two hands, it flutters into the dark of the night. That is what happened to V.E. Schwab’s debut novel, The Near Witch. It was a single flicker of a candle (her words) that didn’t withstand the monsters of fantasies that were doing inexplicably well at the time of publication. And so, The Near Witch dwindled and faded, whilst Victoria herself grew and blossomed as an author who now has fourteen publications to her name with more and more coming. Eight years later, The Near Witch is back with a vengeance, ready for a new wave of readers.
The Near Witch is part fairy tale, part romance with a streak of darkness running through the pages. Like the fairy tales told at night, it is set in a typical village, called Near – similar to the tales told in Leigh Bardugo’s Language of Thorns (2017) – with a woodland surrounding a witch’s cottage, and a community that knows each and every member, their families, and their history. Embedded within this village is a young woman with a rebellious streak; one who doesn’t want to follow the rules of her uncle, her village, or tradition. Lexi is her father’s daughter. He was Protector of the village, until he died. On that day, her whole world turned upside down. With it, she became the silent protector of her home, and her village.
The Near Witch begins with a stranger in their midst. He is a shadow, part of the wind, and part of the night sky. He seems to vanish into thin air. The following night, the children of Near disappear into thin air too. The small minded people of Near assume it is the stranger, but is it? Or, is there something more sinister crawling along the dark sky at night time?
The best characters, in my opinion, are the Thorne sisters: Magda and Dreska. They are part of the soil, the earth and the wind. They have lived in Near longer than any man, woman, or child, practicing their small craft, attempting to protect Near when Near itself does not wish to be protected. They live on the brink of the village, with the open moor as their desert: tied to the community only by history, and perhaps fear. Magda is wickedly funny, dealing in smirks, flippant remarks and looks that mean more than any word could describe. Dreska is the sterner of the two. Her looks are full of power, enough to make any man recoil, because she is stronger than her crippled body depicts. They are both as wise as they are old, with stories that would make any child gasp and reach for their bed covers, but not Lexi. Lexi relishes in the stories of Near, especially The Near Witch.
As it is International Women’s Day, it is never more apt to compare the men and the women in this book. The men of the village are brash, overprotective and deceptive, but the women are deceptive in their own way. Lexi’s mother, for example, is a character that doesn’t appear much in the pages, let alone says anything worthwhile. Lexi craves for the older version of her mother, the one that thrived in life before heartbreak killed her spirit. But, her mother is more than just a ghost. It is she who catapults the action forward with her silent looks and her small actions; her secret defiance against her brother-in-law, in favour for her daughter. Without her, the ending would not have been so happy. Another woman in the village distracts the men so Lexi can escape, and of course the Thorne sisters play their part. In fact, you could say that it is the small acts of women who save the village, whilst the men attempt to do the same with little avail.
I thought there would be another twist, one that people wouldn’t see coming, but I might. This didn’t happen, and I was a little disappointed that it ended with a tightly knitted knot with no further suspense or shock. It is a straightforward story with a predictable element, told in a haunting way with a love and strength that any young woman wants to embody.
Will you be reading The Near Witch?
Love, Faye xo