This month saw the re-publication of The Near Witch, the debut novel from V.E. Schwab which was originally published in 2011 and has since unfortunately been out of print. I attended an event at my local Waterstones last week at which V.E. Schwab talked about this book, and how many years later, having written multiple bestselling series, she has had the unusual opportunity to reintroduce her early work to her readership.
I am familiar with Schwab’s books and recall enjoying This Savage Song a few years ago so I was interested to read this one and see how her writing has changed from this first book. This was one of the reasons I was drawn to this story, that and the fact it concerns witchcraft and magic, and strange goings on in the town of Near. The Near Witch in the title is a subject of local folklore, a story told to frighten children. This is at least what Lexi has heard throughout her life, that and the stories of the wind that calls to you in the night. However, events transpire which put everything Lexi has known into doubt, when a stranger arrives at her home, a boy who is far from ordinary, seemingly fading away into the night. And events get all the more mysterious when children start to disappear from their beds, making Lexi’s visitor seem all the more suspicious, and the legend of the Near Witch appearing to be more than just a fairytale. This mystery surrounding the children’s disappearance, set against the backdrop of a small community on the moors, makes for an intriguing read.
Hearing V.E. Schwab talk about her writing surrounding the re-issue of this story was fascinating, as The Near Witch was written when she was only twenty-one years old, which was very impressive! And whilst from the books I have read I can see her style of writing has evolved, it was interesting to see this early example of her world building as she creates this atmospheric tale surrounding the town of Near and the mysterious events that unfold there. I would say that this is something of a slow burner but whilst this wasn’t a fast paced plot there was a lot to take from this story. The use of the claustrophobic setting was something that I liked, along with the dark fairytale feel to the story as its residents begin to vanish and this sense that the wind is speaking and drifting through the walls. There are some interesting characters to meet along the way as Lexi tries to get to the truth behind the strange goings on, along with the relationship she builds with this mysterious boy.
The Near Witch is an entertaining story of magic and mystery with an intriguing premise. It was interesting to have the opportunity to visit the author’s early work having been so familiar with her recent series, and this story shows a little of what was to come in these books, a story that blends elements of fairytale with aspects of mystery, magic and the supernatural.
The Near Witch was republished by Titan Books on 12th March 2019, with thanks to Lydia Gittins at Titan Books for providing a copy for review.