Monday, October 1, 2012
Pages: 282 (hardcover)
Published: 2011 by Hyperion Books
Teenage Lexi lives with her sister and mother in the tiny, close-knit town of Near, where the wind on the moor seems sometimes to whisper and where the stories of the ancient Near Witch have faded to children's rhymes in the years since her legendary banishment. When a stranger, a dark-haired boy who comes and goes as quickly as the whisper of the moor wind, arrives in Near the very same night that a small boy disappears without a trace, Lexi's uncle-- the village Protector-- and others are convinced that this stranger who only seems to come out a night is responsible.
As more and more of the village children began to disappear from their beds at night, Lexi determinedly investigates for answers despite the disapproval of the community and her belligerent uncle. Surprisingly, her greatest supporter in her desperate search to recover the lost children-- and to stop the disappearances before her sister is the next to vanish into the night-- becomes the stranger, the enticing yet morose boy she calls "Cole". As Lexi and Cole attempt to unravel the dark roots of the legend of the Near Witch, they discover that the truth is far from what they've heard in nursery rhymes, and that the little town of Near may be harboring more than its fair share of terrible secrets.
The Near Witch was a book which exceeded my expectations in several ways. The story seemed like an almost traditional one, with a sort of fairy tale feel: a mysterious and possibly long-dead witch lures children away from their homes in an isolated community. Yet, this book was no mere "Hansel and Gretel". Victoria Schwab's writing is gloriously descriptive, eerie in the scenes where Lexi is out on the moor at night, and just plain creepy during the last few, pulse-pounding scenes of the novel. I liked her use of the present tense and the first-person POV of Lexi, the protagonist-- these devices kept the pace of this book very quick, charging along at an almost break-neck pace (keep in mind, this is an observation from someone who tends to read much longer/slower-paced books, but that was how it seemed to me). I felt this suspenseful yet rapid pace worked for the book, despite the resulting lack of truly in-depth characterization and setting development, etc. I felt like I got the setting of Near while I was reading, and most of its inhabitants as well.
The book is about one-part creepy-esque fairy tale, one-part paranormal romance, and one-part horror or dark legend. I found the Near Witch story (the simplified version of the children's rhyme and the truth which Lexi and Cole later discover) very satisfying and disturbing, though it did remind me of a book I read a couple of ties when I was younger: Witch Hill, by Marcus Sedgewick. That book, by the way, has a slightly similar plot featuring a witch but is nowhere near as good as The Near Witch. I guess the thing about reading just such a huge number of books over the years is that, after a while, you start to see similar plots and characters and go "oh yeah, but where have I read that before?" It's what my lit professor would call "intertextuality"-- big word for the same syndrome. I don't really mind at all, though.
The romance between Lexi and Cole wasn't my favorite part of the book (big surprise, 'cause ya'll know I'm usually just soo into romance ;) I thought the romance was really sweet in its subtlety and the way it developed-- suddenly and at exactly the right moment. Cole was a great character as far as his backstory and how he seemed to have real emotional depth, rather than just being the "mysterious, paranormal stranger" which you sometimes see in YA-- and adult-- books. My one complaint on the romance factor was that the author seemed to feel the need to throw in an almost superfluous second love interest-- a local guy called Tyler who has a crush on Lexi--, I guess in order to complete the love triangle which seems to be becoming almost mandatory these days. Overall, though, I was pretty impressed with Schwab's characterization due to the short length of the book and how plot-driven it was. The Near Witch is a suspenseful, intriguing, and creepy read with a little bit of romance thrown in, and one with a lot of fairy tale-type inspiration working behind the scenes. I really enjoyed it, and would definitely recommend. Therefore I award thee four very pixel-y unicorns, book.