V.E. Schwab’s debut novel, The Near Witch, is set in the town of Near in which our main character, Lexi, has been led to believe 3 things. Firstly, that The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children. Secondly, that you must not listen to the wind, for the wind is lonely and always looking for company. And third, that there are no strangers in the town of Near. However, these sayings start to be proven false when a young boy that nobody knows is spotted in the town, and soon after children start disappearing in the dead of night from their beds. This novel is part fairy tale and part love story, following Lexi’s hunt for the children and the mysterious young boy who has fallen under suspicion.
Extremely atmospheric, beautifully written, and with a compelling mystery at its centre, Schwab has crafted a wonderfully eerie story that left chills running down my spine. My copy of the book, which is the new deluxe edition as the original is no longer in print, contained a never-before-seen introduction by Schwab in which she describes the novel as quiet and strange, which I think fits the vibe perfectly. It is a subtle novel; whilst it is enticing and contains some breathtaking scenes, it is all handled in a low key manner and the story majorly relies on the mystical and eerie feeling throughout to keep readers intrigued. That being said, despite not having as much action and angst as Schwab’s newer works, it still contains many of the themes we all know and love from her other novels, and I would encourage anyone who adores her newer work to also give this one a go.
The writing is folklore-esque and mimics that of a fairy tale; it is whimsical and exactly what you would expect a novel about witches that is set in a small town to be. I could visualise everything effortlessly, and Schwab really does know how to build suspense.
Regarding the characters, I actually think many of them lacked real development. I just wanted to know them all a little more, and understand their decisions a little better. However, I thought Lexi to be a great protagonist, and I really liked the stranger and the intrigue that surrounded his character. Furthermore, I adored how the author established the sibling love between Lexi and her younger sister, Wren, right from the offset. In fact, the story opens with Lexi reading Wren bedtime stories until she falls asleep as Wren is afraid of the dark, and Lexi’s love for Wren continues to be a major focus in the rest of the novel. I appreciated this because, more often than not, sibling relationships in books tend to be somewhat strained with some kind of rivalry, so The Near Witch offered something a little different.
So there was much to love about this novel, however I think everyone should take into consideration that this is Schwab’s first published work to avoid being disappointed, because I believe that without this knowledge it may fall a bit short. For instance, I was initially disappointed by the lack of complex plot line as there are only two main story lines and it’s very clear from the beginning how they both interconnect. Later on in the novel I was then further disappointed by the fact that the truth behind the mystery is revealed about half way through, and the second half is just our main characters trying to prove it to everyone else. I kept hoping that the ending would contain a major plot twist that would surprise me, but it didn’t.
Despite this, I still gave the novel 4 stars because I thought everything else was flawless. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reading it, and would definitely recommend it to anyone who loves urban fantasy, folklore, and V.E. Schwab.