”The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.”
It’s no secret I’m a huge Victoria Schwab fan so I was very curious about her debut novel and how it would be written. It’s always interesting to see how your favourite authors started out and how their writing style developed and changed with time. This said I absolutely loved and adored the atmosphere in here! Schwab’s writing style in „The Near Witch” reminded me a lot of Maggie Stiefvater’s books and I’m so glad I finally decided to read this! There is something magical about the description of the moor and you can almost feel the wind pushing against the window pane, trying to make its way into the house.
”I catch my breath as the stranger’s eyes find mine. Eyes as dark as river stones and yet somehow shining, soaking up moonlight. Eyes that widen a fraction as they meet my own. A single, long, unblinking look. And then in an instant the stranger seems to break apart, a sharp gust of wind tears through, and the shutters slam closed against the glass.”
So what’s “The Near Witch” about? I suppose you could say it’s a tale as old as time. There is this close-knit community of Near and everyone knows everyone. There are no strangers in Near and if someone visits their quiet village the Council makes sure they don’t stay long. It’s the way Near has been run for centuries and it’s the only way they know. So once a stranger appears and children begin to vanish from their beds in the middle of the night everyone already knows who’s the culprit. Of course it’s the stranger and the Council is more than just ready to do what is necessary in order to get their children back.
”Fear is a strange thing,” he used to say. “It has the power to make people close their eyes, turn away. Nothing good grows out of fear.”
It’s that kind of fear that is palpable throughout the entire book and it covers the village like a suffocating coat of fog. The more children disappear, the thicker it gets and with every night, with every vanished child, the villagers get more and more restless and desperate to find the stranger. What I really liked about this book was the fact that Schwab didn’t only create a world you could imagine vividly but she also fabricated an environment that displayed a lot of important issues as well. The atmosphere in this is amazing, the plot might be slow but the characters are more complex than meets the eye and every character has its own story to tell. No matter if it’s Lexi’s uncle Otto who means well but only knows what he’s been taught for years, no matter if it’s Lexi’s mother who lost her husband way too soon, but still tries her best to help her daughters to survive in a world dominated by men. There are so many topics that are tackled it’s actually kind of astonishing. “The Near Witch” covers xenophobia, hostility towards women, prejudices, loss, grief and even some psychological themes like self-hatred and feelings of guilt. And yes, it doesn’t even shy away from ethical issues.
”I choose to believe, Miss Harris, that the Council did what they thought was – not right; right is the wrong word. What they thought was necessary.”
“She didn’t kill the boy.”
He finally looks at me. “I doubt it mattered.”
The quote above is so powerful because it’s the people of Near in a nutshell. Everything that’s foreign is bad and once people set their minds on something there’s no turning back. Their ignorance and prejudices made me so angry and just like Lexi I tried to fight them tooth and nail. Magda and Dreska were two of my favourite characters and their unfaltering wisdom as well as their slightly eerie presence made for a great atmosphere. Can I have a Magda and Deska in my life please? =)
”All Near knows.”
“All Near forgets.”
All Near tries to forget? Before I can make sense of it, the sisters’ voices begin to overlap, and the sound is haunting.
“But we remember.”
The Near witch was quite a formidable antagonist and some of the scenes actually caused me to get goose bumps. As for the love story between Lexi and Cole: Well, it was pretty insta-lovey but I didn’t mind because the focus of the book was clearly on other things. 😉 I loved the dynamic between those two though and it reminded me a lot of the relationship between Puck and Sean in Maggie Stiefvater’s “The Scorpio Races”. Lexi was a passionate wild child and Cole more the quiet and composed kind of boy. Guess opposites will always attract. Their gentleness sometimes almost killed me. *lol*
He looks out over my head to the east, eyes shining, but I can see the edge of his mouth quirk.
“Look at me,” I say, running my fingers along his jaw and turning his face back to mine. “I’m still here.”
Cole kisses me once, a quiet, desperate kiss. I can taste the pain on his lips, the hint of salt.
All told I loved to read this intriguing story! The early Victoria Schwab was already a great writer and the atmosphere of this book was amazing! By now I think there is nothing Schwab can’t write and I’m really looking forward to read all of her other books. If you enjoy books with a haunting and gloomy atmosphere, if you like tales of witches and are fond of the moor, if you dig a little dash of romance in your tales, then this one is for you! 😉