Published by Disney Hyperion
Published on 2 August 2011
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Source: my local library
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The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.
If the wind calls at night, you must not listen.
The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.
And there are no strangers in the town of Near.
These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.
But when an actual stranger - a boy who seems to fade like smoke - appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi's need to know-about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab's debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won't soon forget.
Considering this was published in 2011, I’m surprised this is my first Victoria Schwab novel.
What’s even weirder is that I tried so very hard to listen to this on audio but my god the narrator is so bad. She’s basically reading a list with no emotional input whatsoever. I was so frustrated listening that I ended up quitting the audio version and reading a copy myself, because my own inner voice did a better job than the audio narrator. I have never quit an audiobook based on a narrator but still really wanted to read the book before, so it quite a strange experience.
There’s not really much to say plot-wise. Basically our heroine Lexi is far too interested in a stranger to her small, isolated town of Near, and this mysterious hottie is suspected when children start to go missing from their beds. Lexi knows it’s not her new beau, but she also needs to prove it before her little sister also disappears. The entire plot is basically Lexi sneaking out and looking for clues, and she’s basically the only one in the village who can because he dad was a hunter.
However, her uncle who is now the paternal head of her household, thinks her actions are inappropriate and tries to keep her locked in her house like a good little girl.
To be honest, this kind of felt like a 2011 novel. Basically the only character who gets any in-depth appearance description is the mysterious stranger. It’s got this great Gothic feel to it, and is very much a romance dressed up like a fantasy, which was incredibly common ten years ago. There’s not much diversity and the whole thing takes place in the little bubble of Near and the moors. That’s not to say that any of this is detrimental to the story, just an observation.
I did quite enjoy the book, though. I loved how Lexi was so smart and strong and determined, I loved how she fought against the shackles her uncle tried to snap around her ankles to keep her in the kitchen, I loved her tenderness for her family, the fierce way she loved them. I also really liked how this was quite a feminist novel, in that the village men decide the stranger must be the one taking the children, and they must take action against him, even when Lexi was pointing out their evidence was incredibly flimsy, because they didn’t necessarily want to be right but they were terrified of being wrong in front of each other. Meanwhile, Lexi could rely on the women in the village, and especially the two witches who lived on the outskirts, to support her, which was lovely.
I believe that most of this novel was Lexi trying to speak to the stranger, and then spending time with him, so it really did feel like a romance over anything else. Although I wasn’t particularly feeling the romance, I did feel that they became good friends and could trust each other, and I did like the ending. Lexi had to be smart as well as wise, to balance her own desires against sacrificing for everyone else, and I think it hit every storytelling beat really well.
I also had a really great sense of place while reading this. I could easily visualize the moor and the village and everything Lexi observed. I could hear the wind in my ears and feel her desperation and determination. Basically I think there’s a reason why Victoria Schwab is still quite popular today.