In the town of Near, children have always heard the stories about the Near Witch who one lived there. Lexi grew up hearing the tale, and she often entertains her little sister Wren with the same story. It has always just been a fairy tale. But when a strange boy appears in the town and then local children start to go missing from their beds, the villagers start to get suspicious. As the search for the culprit intensifies, Lexi races to find answers to her own questions: about the story of the witch and about the mysterious boy she calls Cole.
With The Near Witch, Victoria Schwab has crafted a twisty fairy tale about a small town panicked over the loss of its children and in denial about the power of a woman who once lived there. Slow to start, Schwab takes her her time building the tension and the action, allowing the story to reach a climax that will leave many readers on the edge of their seat. Strong characterization and an accessible voice in narrator Lexi make this debut worth reading.
Schwab is a good writer, and her stylistically strong writing creates a clear and somewhat eerie picture of the town of Near. What is interesting to note about Schwab’s story is the narration itself: Lexi’s voice is fairly contemporary, and yet the story seems to be set in some undefined part of the past. There is no technology, and Lexi spends time cutting wood and helping care for her little sister Wren, but there is still something modern about her voice. It is intriguing but not distracting, which is a delicate balance to manage.
For the most part, Schwab creates strong characters. Lexi is by far the strongest in her characterization: smart and driven but stuck in her town and by her circumstances. Wren, her little sister, is also well-drawn, containing the voice of a young child who in many ways idolizes her older sister. Lexi’s mother and her uncle play minor roles, but both are given consideration and are treated with care. It is only Cole, the mysterious newcomer to Near and love interest for Lexi, whose characterization I found lacking.
This book is both a fairy tale itself as well as a tribute to the tales it draws inspiration from. Although there is a love story present here, it is a quiet one, and the novel’s main focus is one of horror. Schwab successfully plays with that mood. As more children begin to disappear, the tension the villagers of Near feel is palpable. Creating that sort of tension, as well as sustaining it, is a rare skill, and Schwab does it well.
The Near Witch hits book shelves TODAY.
The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab. Disney-Hyperion: 2011. Electronic galley accepted for review via Netgalley.