I’ve always been a sucker for a good ghost story. I love the feeling of being terrified, heart pounding, hair raising, skin prickling-you know, generally being scared out of my wits. When I called dibs on reviewing The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, because I had heard only good things about it, Christine was quick to express her desire to do a review with me. I was so happy she was interested, as talking about books I loved with someone is one of my favorite things.
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.
Leiah: I had been wanting to read The Near Witch for awhile. There has been a lot of buzz about it on Twitter and when I saw the final cover art, I was even more intrigued. The concept of a fairy tale/ghost story was exciting to me. I found it very easy to slip into Lexi’s world right from the start, even though Victoria made the actual setting of Near was as mysterious as the story of the Near Witch. We don’t know when the story is set, or exactly where Near is. It added so much to the “spooky factor” for me, and really, who doesn’t like a spooky story?
Christine: I have to agree. I got a spooky fairy tale feel from this book as well. You get the sense that the book is set in the past, but when and where are never fully explained. Although the moors were mentioned several times, which I’ve never heard except when Scotland or some parts of Europe are talked about, so I wondered if it was set there, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter because the tone of the book matches the story so well that you forget to ask where and why.
And it was a bit creepy. After finishing it, of course it was nighttime and of course I went to sleep right after, and I found myself slightly afraid of what was in the dark. Basically, it took me a little longer to fall asleep that night.
Leiah: I guessed it was in England as Victoria is half British herself but, then again, it might be some imaginary world, but you’re right, it doesn’t really matter. The writing was so engaging that I just let myself get lost in it. I thought the pacing of the story was really well done too. It’s that wonderful slow build, with small, seemingly innocuous things occurring and before you realize it your heart is pounding with fright. I have to admit, I cheated in a few places. I had to turn ahead. The suspense was just too much and also, I’m a big chicken. A big chicken that loves to be scared. *shrug*
The book is written in first person narrative and the point of view is that of Lexi Harris, who is much braver than I am. A teen-aged girl living with her mother and sister outside the village of Near, on the edge of the moors. Lexi loves the moors, as did her father, and respects them. They are very much a character in this book in their own right.
Christine: *gasp* I can’t believe you skipped ahead! (Not that I can say much because I skipped to the end around halfway through.)
I liked Lexi. She was an opinionated girl (without being annoying) stuck in a village where men decided everything. She had tracking skills and knew it, thanks to her father, and thought nothing of looking into the strange disappearances happening around the village. And her with mystery boy was too cute. We never do find out his real name, which I thought was odd, but mystery boy has a nice ring to it.
And yes, the moors are a major character in this book. It played a large role in just about everything, to both the villagers and Near Witch.
Leiah: Yes, mystery boy was a great addition (Lexi ends up naming him Cole so she has something to call him), and their love story was very sweet. Which is an odd word choice now that I think about it, but it was. Inside all of the intensity related to the children’s disappearance and Lexi’s struggle to save them and Cole, Victoria has crafted a very sweet love story.
I think The Near Witch was very much a labor of love for the author. You can tell just how much craft she poured into it. The lyrical nature of the stories passed down to Lexi from her father, the life and soul she breathed into the moors, and the creativity of the novel as a whole just shows what a wonderful talent Victoria is.
Christine: Yes, I look forward to what Victoria will do in the future. I know she’s working on something else right now, but I don’t know the details. For a debut book, The Near Witch highlights Victoria’s storytelling and lyrical phrasing very well. It’ll be interesting to see if she sticks with witches or focuses on something else. I vote for more of Cole (aka mystery boy), but that might just be me. I would love to know his story before coming to Near, or even a glimpse at his life after the ending.
Leiah: I’m so glad you feel that way, because I do too. I was laughing at myself when I finished, because I’m a pretty regular complainer about wanting a solid, stand alone book, which the The Near Witch most definitely is, but the second I closed it I wanted another story of Lexi and Cole! The characters and the writing just leave you wanting to enjoy more of them. Cole’s backstory (which we get a bit of) was so intriguing, heartbreaking really, but I’d read anything more about him. He was pretty much the perfect YA guy to me. I really need to stop falling for all these imaginary boys.
Christine: Ugh. Tell me about it. Pretty soon real guys aren’t going to come close to the way I’ve built these imaginary boys up in my mind.
But back to The Near Witch. Overall, I liked it. It was a good mixture of spooky and love story that kept your attention and left you wanting more, as evidenced by our pleas for more Cole and Lexi.
Leiah: I really liked it. Since finishing it, it’s popped up in my mind several times. That’s a hallmark of a good book to me, one that leaves you thinking about it. It’s a book filled with wonderful characters and settings, as well as a great ghost story and mystery. I think it will do really well when it’s released on August 2nd. If you’d like to win a copy of The Near Witch before you can buy it, you’re in luck. We’re giving an Advanced Reader Copy away!
We are excited to be giving away an ARC of The Near Witch. To enter the drawing, simply click on this link: ENTRY FORM
The contest is open to all US and Canada residents until 11:59 p.m., Tuesday, July 26th. The winner will be announced on the 27th. Good luck!