You all know that I have tried books by V.E. Schwab before. A Darker Shade of Magic and Vicious have both made their way across my desk as gateways into her writing. She is dynamic online, I love her personality, and I desperately want to like her books and her writing.
A call came across the Twitterverse that if any bloggers wished to have a copy of Schwab’s debut novel THE NEAR WITCH, they could email the publisher and request once. Apparently it had gone out of print, but now that Schwab has a following and a wide enough audience, the decision had been made to re-release it in hopes that it would find an audience now when before it seemed to miss them.
My physical copy of The Near Witch was provided to me by Titan Books in return for an honest review. It’s also worth noting that I have not read any other reviews of this book before writing my own, only the synopsis to see if I wanted to request it.
I can see why this book might have missed people the first time around. It seems too familiar, like a story you’ve heard before and so your brain can take you through to the ending without you ever having to read the book. I have to admit that I almost put the book down halfway through, because it was too obvious what would come to pass. Even with the one or two twists thrown in for good measure, it ended right where I figured it would, lessons learned all around.
As always with this kind of critique though, I have to come back to the fact that this book is YA – meant for people in their late teens/early twenties who haven’t read as extensively as I have, or haven’t seen as much of the world as I have. I wouldn’t want someone to skip this book based on that feeling alone, because something I always love about Schwab’s writing is the vivid imagery and her ability to make you feel like you are there.
The Near Witch seems to be more concerned with the story than the characters. The sweet kisses and dedication that Lexi feels for Cole after only 24 hours of interacting falls flat for me when I am not sure why I care about any of the characters. In her novel Vicious, I feel invested in Victor Vale and the other characters because I see what they have invested in their own stories. What happens to them matters to me because I care about them. In The Near Witch the stranger (Cole) arrives on the moor wind and we are off on a story full of scapegoating, prejudices, and hatred as children begin disappearing from their beds at night. You don’t get to know the characters deeply enough to care, you just get swept away by the race to save the kidnapped children and we hope you don’t ask for more.
Despite the reasons it fell flat for me in particular, I still think that this story is valuable because it warns that we always seem to need someone to blame, and often we are too quick to blame to assuage our own grief, thereby ending up hurting more people in the process. Long debts come due sooner or later when we rush to judgment or act without thinking, and the ones to pay those debts are often not the ones who incurred them in the first place. They are the young, the vulnerable, and the future of a society. In this way I feel like The Near Witch is coming back into publication at a time when it is beneficial to hear this kind of story told as much as possible. It is applicable to all of the racial, ethnic, class, and climate discussions that the global society is grappling with, and I believe that there is no better source of lessons and morals than children’s fairy tales and stories. Schwab lends her voice to this struggle in many ways, and most recently with this re-publication of her debut.
If you have a young person in your life who loves witches, magic, mystery, and love at first sight, you should definitely consider picking this one up for them. Give it a go.