Books · Reviews · Spoiler-Free

The Near Witch: Too High of Expectations or Not Schwab’s Best Work?

Thank you so much to Titan Books for kindly providing me with an ARC of The Near Witch.

This is a spoiler-free review and all opinions are my own.

Title: The Near Witch
Author: V. E. Schwab
Publisher: Titan Books
Publication Date: 12 March 2019
Length: 354 pages

There are no strangers in the town of Near. These are the truths that 
Lexi Harris 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.

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previous-installments

This is a standalone story. The Near Witch is V. E. Schwab’s very first debut as an author and has been out-of-print until now! This edition includes an exclusive introduction by the author and the prequel The Ash-Born Boy.

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This book is fairly atmospheric and creepy. The witchy vibes were on point and Schwab really knew how to accentuate them at key events.

The small town setting is one that’s been done countless times but there’s a reason why: it works. It worked so very well in this book, especially paired with the superstitious townsfolk and the mob mentality that you just know mean trouble from the moment you meet them. I liked how each character has their own beliefs and motivations to act the way they do and it’s not all black and white. Lexi knows the truth and maybe others do too, deep down, but their fear runs too wild and keeps them from doing the right thing.

I also enjoyed the dynamics between Lexi and each member of her family – how they all act and think in different ways and how traumatic events have shaped them very particularly. Otto is one of those characters you have no idea what to expect, because his loyalties seem to shift all the time. Lexi’s mother was also difficult to warm up to but she revealed to be much more than meets the eye. I loved Dreska and Magda, although sometimes it annoyed me how they kept so much from Lexi and didn’t just give her straight answers. But they were otherwise very entertaining and made me chuckle on countless occasions.

The writing itself, while decisively much greener than what I’m used to, was mostly engaging and immersive. The descriptions really made you feel like you were actually walking on the moors and meeting these flesh and blood people. There were certain moments that were pretty gruesome and made my skin crawl, purely by the way they were written. So you could already tell back then that Schwab was going places.

bitter-bits

I was really, really frustrated at Lexi throughout the book. Actually, not just her, to be honest: ALL the people in Near drove me insane! Why weren’t they taking more precautions against the kidnapper? Why was there so much talking and almost no action? I swear, every time it was like “Whoops, another kid was taken! What can ya do? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “

Lexi made me specially annoyed because her little sister Wren is only five years old. She is, thus, at risk. And what does Lexi do multiple times? (highlight to read: ) She goes out at night and leaves Wren alone, unprotected (kind of) and just sort of hoping nothing will happen. Not just that, but she does so for very stupid reasons.

I didn’t like the romance. It felt very instalovey, rushed, and lacked chemistry. I have no idea what those two even saw in each other. One moment they met, the other they were in love…

I’m also pretty tired of the whole “if a girl loves a boy enough, she can save him from himself” trope (on par with the “she’s the only one who can control/calm him” trope), which not only make no sense but are also very toxic and unrealistic. If the boy says it’s best to stay away, then she stays away. But hey, teenagers, am I right?

The pace was also something I struggled with, as it was a bit too slow at times and seemed to drag on and on and on. I’m not sure how long the story runs for, but I’d say about a week goes by in between the first chapter and the climax? It might be a bit more, but it still felt like months had gone by instead. It was too repetitive as well, which didn’t help make it any easier to flip through.

From the very first chapter, it felt like Schwab was using omission purely to create mystery and further complicate the story, which is a very lazy plot device to use. There were times where a simple question would have solved the situation. Again, I understand this was her first ever story to write and it takes a lot of practice to produce a solid suspense piece, so I’ll give her a break.

overall

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the book I was hoping for. Maybe my expectations and all the hype surrounding everything the author puts forth ended up interfering with my enjoyment. Either way, I just didn’t feel the grip and excitement I was expecting.

I did enjoy parts of it, don’t get me wrong, but I also felt very frustrated with others and especially by Lexi, the main character. I didn’t connect with her and it was hard to understand her very poor decision-making. Also, there wasn’t much about her or her personality that I could pinpoint or pay special attention to because it wasn’t really shown.

I liked the setting and how the characters were made to be perceived, surprising me in turns. I also loved the atmospheric feel of this book and the cleverness Schwab injected in some of her scenes. I mean, I love witches and magic, and anything taking place in the moorland will have a place in my heart.

However, the romance felt incredibly dry and unnecessary, and the pace made it hard to stay focused.

I think I ended up enjoying The Ash-Born Boy better than The Near Witch itself, maybe because it was just so much more raw, emotional, and revealing of the main character’s true essence.

While a valiant effort on the author’s part, this is undoubtedly not her best work. But it wasn’t supposed to be. It’s clunky and awkward, intriguing and endearingly naïve. And it’s still a nice story if you’re a fan of hers and would like to see where her career started and how much she has grown. It just isn’t the best she can do.


📖 Do high expectations ever interfere with your enjoyment of a book?
📖 Has an author’s debut ever disappointed you compared to their later work?
📖 Are you a fan of V.E. Schwab?
Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

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61 thoughts on “The Near Witch: Too High of Expectations or Not Schwab’s Best Work?

  1. This was my first read by V.E. Schwab and i wasnt impressed but i read it when it was her obly book out. I actually didn’t realize that it was written by her until awhile back when it was announced that it was going back into print.
    I think her other works are stronger but I still liked this story just not as much as some of her other work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah same here… It doesn’t even feel like her sometimes! But it was an all right story, considering it was her first one. I just feel like I’ve read tons like it before, you know? And I much more preferred Shades of Magic (at least the first book).

      Like

  2. Great review! I’m sorry this book didn’t meet your expectations! It’s a bummer that you didn’t enjoyed any of the characters. I hate insta-love too! It’s one of my major book turn-offs! This book is definitely not for me! Hope you enjoy your next read! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Raven! Yeah they were just a bit off for me, specially Lexi. And considering she’s the main character and it’s a first POV story, it was really hard to feel engaged.
      It wasn’t just the instalove that turned me off, but it definitely didn’t help… Thank you, hon ❤ I'm currently reading Sky in the Deep and oh man, what a difference! (I love it so far)

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I am LOVING it so far! Have about 50 pages left but will probably be finished by tonight as I cannot wait to get back to it… Which is also problematic because I don’t want it to end XD *cries a little*
          I look forward to reading your thoughts on it, Raven ❤ I need someone to fangirl with hahaha

          Like

  3. I haven’t actually read any V.E. Schwab (yet) but I do think that high expectations really do impact book enjoyment. I’ve read a few books and though, ‘Yeah this is good, but it doesn’t match what I have been told’ and then been a bit disappointed. I suppose we should also remember that this is her first book – I think – and that she will have grown a lot as a writer since then. Good review, btw!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think Schwab is a really capable writer, and yeah this was her first book so it’s understandibly weaker than her later works. I definitely recommend you try Shades of Magic and her other stories 🙂
      I often feel like I need to go into books completely blind to be able to enjoy them fully… Rarely do I feel like a book has fulfilled my expectations after reading countless reviews and ratings, and forming preconceived opinions… So yeah, that was probably the case with this one! (Though I probably would not have loved it either way)
      Thank you so much ❤

      Like

  4. Fantastic review Sophie! Honestly so far I only have read one book by VE Schwab and I liked it but …not more 😦 I feel like the odd one here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Sophie! Which book of hers did you read?
      I’ve only read the first and second from the Shades of Magic trilogy and really liked them, but they’re not my favourites either. So you’re not alone! I think Schwab is a great writer but the hype might be a biiiit too much at times.

      Like

    1. I think you definitely should read her books! Maybe start with this one and then go from there? I think this pales in comparison to her later works so it’s best to leave them for last, in my opinion. I wish I’d done that! Nevertheless, I’m sure you’ll enjoy her writing and style 🙂 They are really really great!
      Thank you so much, Priyasha ❤

      Like

  5. Great review, Sophie! As much as I love Schwab, it does sound like this book is not one of her best (which makes sense considering it’s her debut). I’m not typically a huge fan of insta-love, so I don’t think the romance will sit very well with me. And it sounds like omission is used to frequently to further the plot. I might still check this one out, but will keep all this in mind!

    Have a lovely week, Sophie! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly! Yes definitely check it out, it is well worth it to at least see Schwab’s humble beginnings and realise just how much she has grown as an author. It’s also a nice witches story 🙂
      Aw thank you, doll, and you ❤ ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes! High expectations sometimes take away the enjoyment of the story, but it usually turns out to be a continuous problem I have with the book. I’ll take a pass on this one. Repetition drives me crazy! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sorry this one didn’t work out for you Sophie! You’ve written a great review of The Near Witch, though. I hear all the good things about Schwab, although I’ve yet to read any of her work myself. I want to, it’s on my to-do list, and I will never be a happy book lover until I do — I just have to find the perfect moment!

    (and now I know not to start with this one!)

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    1. Aw thank you, Sha! Schwab is a really good writer, in my opinion, but yeah this was her debut so I wasn’t expecting it to be perfect. However, I WAS expecting it to be much better considering all the hype.
      I’ve only read the first book and half of the second of her Shades of Magic trilogy so I can’t really talk about her work as a whole yet, but I enjoyed those a lot.
      I hope you do too, when you read them! And you can start with this one, I mean you might enjoy it. There seems to be a lot of fans who do 🙂 Maybe it’s just me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Schwab has such a diverse collection of works, spanning from middle grade up to adult fiction. From what I hear, each book gets pretty rave reviews overall. I really don’t know where to start… So I’ll probably stick with a genre close to my taste, with better reviews from people I trust. Though in line with what you say, in the end, it can all boil down to opinion!

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        1. Yes I suppose so… I mean, I’ve seen some people say Schwab’s way too overrated and they don’t know what the hype is about. Then I see people kissing the ground the woman walks on. It’s a tough call xD
          I’m sure you’ll find the right book for you, in the end 🙂 Like you said, there’s tons to choose from!

          Like

    1. I liked it too! Although it could have been a bit more complex in retrospective, it was still really enjoyable and I loved exploring Scotland with the characters 🙂
      This was still a nice story but not nearly as great as her other works.

      Like

  8. I have this author’s books on my TBR, but somehow haven’t read any yet. I did read her recent graphic novel and enjoyed it. I guess it sounds like this was the book that got her feet wet. I might add it to my list out of curiosity, even though it sounds like it isn’t quite up to par with her more recent work. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been meaning to try the graphic novel, it’s supposed to be really good! Yeah that’s exactly it, so I wasn’t expecting it to be brilliant but still much better than it was :/
      Definitely do! I’d love to read your thoughts on it 🙂

      Like

  9. Fantastic review, Sophie! I haven’t read all of Schwab’s work (I’m making it my goal to try) but everyone has to start somewhere and usually, an author’s beginning works are nowhere near as polished as their present or final pieces. I enjoy watching my favorite authors grow, though it can be disappointing if you start reading their later works first and then go back to their earlier works, only to find that the writing isn’t as strong. It’s unavoidable, but disappointing nonetheless haha.

    I love witches and magic too, so I fancy the premise quite a bit, but the prospect of multiple tropes and clichés is off-putting. Seems we’re both over the insta-love and change the guy tropes. And lord knows I can’t stand a character that makes stupid decisions for the sake of the plot. But at least it sounds like Schwab got the atmosphere right. If it’s anything like the creepy, unsettling vibe as The VVitch, then I’ll be very excited to pick this one up!

    Hopefully, your next Schwab read turns out much better for ya! 😀

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, Azia! 🙂 Yeah that’s what happened here but I actually had no idea this one existed before until it was announced recently xD So I felt it was my moral duty to try it hahaha

      I’m not sure how old she was when she started writing it but I’m betting 19 from what I remember reading on the intro. When I was 19 I was also into toxic tropes and relationships, so I can understand why she would write about them. Thank God we’ve grown out of those!

      I’m not sure as I haven’t watched that one (not a horror fan, nuh huh, not me xD) but I would say it’s very very very tame in comparison – it’s creepy but not scary, I don’t feel.

      Hopefully, fingers crossed! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t either until I saw EpicReads post about it on Facebook!

        Yes! And it seems she has as well, especially after reading her recent works.

        LOL, yeah, I’d stay away from VVitch. It’s not scary, just really uncomfortable and hella creepy haha

        ❤

        Like

  10. Great review! I haven’t read this book and don’t really plan to but I had my suspicions it would be as you said. Surprised at the insta-love to be honest! I really hate that trope, as well as cliches. Yeah, I’ll probably give this one a miss.
    I’m not the biggest fan of V.E. Schwab (and I don’t know why as everyone else seems to love her) although I do want to finish reading the Shades of Magic series.
    Hope your next read is better 💕

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, Laura!
      I was too :O I mean, I was never a fan of the romance in Shades of Magic but I knew I was the odd one out as everyone seemed to ship them. However, it was not because it was instalovey, it was simply because I didn’t like them as a couple.
      SoM wasn’t my absolute favourite series either… I did enjoy it but there’s a reason why I still haven’t finished the second book ^^’ It might have something to do with not liking Lila all that much :/ I’ll probably finish the series at some point, though.
      Thanks so much, and you too! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve never read any books by this author – maybe i won’t start with this one.
    I do love the small town setting idea, and it always adds to the creepiness, but too much talking and not much action can ruin it easily.
    Great review nevertheless! 🙂

    Like

    1. I think you’d enjoy them! At least the more adult ones (I think she has MG, YA and then some are aimed at older audiences) so really there’s a bit of something for everyone 🙂
      Smalltown stories can be so satisfying if done right (though I’d hate to live in them xD) I just love the drama and gossip and how they can be so bloody ruthless LOL The suburbs are cool settings for that reason too.
      I’ll be reading The Devouring Grey next I think, so I hope it does the trope justice. Have you read that one?
      Thank you so much, Norrie! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Yes I think high expectations can ruin your reading experience especially if there is a lot of hype around a story. It can be painful but I do love seeing authors grow in their writing.

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  13. I do think that having high expectations can ruin your enjoyment of a story especially if there is a lot of hype surrounding a story. Not always but it is disheartening when it does happen especially with an author you love.

    Like

  14. I love your review, Sophie, you perfectly summed up how I felt about so many parts of this book here. I especially agree with you about the romance, it felt a little rushed and insta-lovey and overall, I didn’t quite feel the chemistry between the characters. I really liked the atmosphere of the book overall though, that was so good 🙂 It’s not Schwab’s best work, but it’s still an intriguing debut for sure! 😀

    Like

    1. Thank you so much, Marie ❤ I feel better knowing someone else feels the same way! I just felt like the odd one out considering everyone seemed to love it for the most part. I mean, I liked it but I also had some big issues with it.
      Yes, definitely worth the read, if only to see how far she's come! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I didn’t realise this was previously out of print work! It’s really interesting to me that you noticed such a huge gap in quality between that and her bestsellers of today. While it’s certainly a shame that the book was such a disappointment, it does seem like an interesting exercise to see how much she has come on over the years. From everything you’ve said it seems as if this book being kind of failure (which from being out of print in such a short time I am assuming it was) might have been for a good reason.

    So with you on problematic relationship dynamics! Female ‘love interests’ (I really hate that term but it feels accurate for what I want to say) somehow taking responsibility for male actions has always bothered me so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same here! Maybe it’s not even that bad / different from her latest work, it’s just that I’ve read them so long ago when I was much younger, and my taste has improved? I wonder xD

      Yeah I mean, I don’t suppose she went through a huge deal of editing / changing things up with this one between the last time it was published and now? It just feels as amateurish as one would expect from a first book, which is fine to be honest. Other than give the fans a nice treat, though, there’s really not much of a point to put it back in circulation…

      I know! It’s something that I definitely didn’t spot when I was younger and would even support (ugh, vomit) but I’m glad real life has taught me how to distinguish between love and abuse. It just makes me so sad that some authors still perpetuate the “alpha male” persona as something desirable (or equally worse: the “I need to fix him” trope, which is just as toxic and is present in this book, where the love interest is not considered alpha but beta, I think – the exact terminology escapes me) and young girls (or even grown women) will read these stories and think that it’s what they should aspire to have in their lives…

      It bothered me that 19-year-old Schwab would think that and write about it in her book but again, she was 19. So, disappointing but not unexpected. I’m sure many readers will probably not find a problem with the relationship, though. Yet even without that element of “abuse” it’s still such a bland love story with no chemistry to speak of, I would probably still not enjoy it.

      Like

      1. Oh I am so with you! When I was a teenager I read books with horrible, disturbing, co dependent and abusive relationships and thought they were the height of everything that was romantic and desirable. We have such a messed up view of what romance actually is – no wonder we spend so much of our lives driving ourselves crazy!

        Like

        1. Ugh indeed! I also have such a hard time watching old movies now (and they don’t need to be black and white old, I’m talking Indiana Jones old) because the way male leads treat love interests is just appalling! And at the time it was considered super romantic to have a gruff, violent male lead tossing the girl around like a ragdoll, and force-kissing them, and basically raping them at times. So disgusting. I’m really glad times have changed and people have started to challenge those retrogate ideals.
          On the other end of the spectrum, Disney gave me such a warped idea of what guys would be like in a relationship. Needless to say, I had a rude awakening when I started dating 😂😂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Haha! Oh god I think we all had a rude awakening!

            I am with you about old movies. I watched St Elmo’s Fire recently and Rob Lowe’s character in that movie is supposed to be just ‘funny sexy Billy’ but he is really predatory. It’s disturbing!

            Like

            1. I’ve actually never watched that movie so I can’t say, but I know exactly what you mean.
              One that really struck a chord with me was Sixteen Candles. It’s supposed to be this romantic comedy about teenagers and first love, but besides many toxic elements, there’s one scene in particular where this girl is basically unconscious and she’s set up by her own boyfriend (the protagonist’s swoony love interest) to be practically raped by his nerd friend. And it’s supposed to be light hearted and funny!
              I mean, I love some of John Hughes’ movies but that one is just plain disgusting once you watch it with a modern mindset… Yuck!

              Liked by 1 person

  16. Interesting she re-released this debut! Though it sounds like it’s not quite up to the level of her later work… but as you said, I guess for fans it’s fun to see where it all began. I must confess, I’m not a huge Schwab fan myself – I’ve read a couple of her books (Vicious and A Darker Shade of Magic) and liked them but wasn’t blown away or inspired to read any more. I know many love her work though so I think it’s just one of those cases where a popular author doesn’t click for me personally for some reason (e.g. I’m not a big Gaiman fan either, and I know I am in a minority there!!).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah I didn’t know about this book either, and thought it was a recent one of hers before I read more about it.
      I feel the same way about Shades of Magic – they were very entertaining, but I never felt the pull to keep reading (I’m on book two, and have been for a loooong time hahaha)
      I like her writing but I feel maybe she’s a bit overhyped (even by me, sometimes!)
      I definitely disagree about Gaiman though – one of my favourite authors by far. However, I was expecting him to be overhyped as well. I’m glad I was wrong! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s interesting you felt the same way about Shades of Magic – I guess it doesn’t help to be sent in with such astronomical expectations. They’re entertaining and well written – perhaps just not as enthralling as they were made out to be. I haven’t continued with the series, but I wish you good luck completing book 2! And haha yeah, I haven’t yet found anyone who feels the same way about Gaiman so I’m not surprised to be disagreed with 🙂 (I should say I actually like a few of his books – eg I really like Stardust – I just wouldn’t call them favourites, and I’ve also disliked a couple too – so on the whole I don’t hate his work, I’m just not a fan like others are).

        Like

        1. Yeah, absolutely agree. I hope I’ll finish it one day but I’m not suuuper looking forward to it.
          I haven’t read Stardust yet but it’s supposed to be one of his best ones – so I’m glad I didn’t start with that xD I really loved An Ocean At the End of the Lane – magical realism at its finest.
          I can understand that. It would be harder for me to accept someone saying his writing is bad, but of course his stories might not be for everyone 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  17. I love the cover designs of all her books and even the re-skinning of her series. It’s nice that her first book was re-released and gives us a glimpse into her first endeavour within the writing world. To see how she evolves compared to today must be a fun exercise.

    So far I have enjoyed everything she dished out, although I still need to read Our Dark Duet and Book #2 and #3 of her ADSOM trilogy. There’s something about her writing style that is just so easy to get into!

    It’s a bit unfortunate that the story falls into some questionable territory with the sketch characters that don’t act like you would normally assume people would in their shoes… I do hope it was just a learning curve and that anything Schwab releases today will be as phenomenal as always now! Great review as always, Sophie!

    Like

    1. Yeah absolutely agree! My most recent one was City of Ghosts, which is MG but still very entertaining and interesting, especially if you’re into paranormals and travel.
      I have yet to finish the second book in the Shades of Magic trilogy. Otherwise, I’m not sure I’ve read much else from her xD
      I suppose so, yeah. It feels like she was still trying to find her writing voice and maybe copying well-known tropes and styles as a safeguard. But I believe she’s moved on from that, which is great news 🙂
      Thank you so much! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Oh?! I never realised this was an out of print work by her that was the start of her writing career as such… Intriguing 🙂
    I really liked the ADSOM trilogy and it would be super interesting to read The Near Witch just to see how the writing has developed over time.
    I can totally understand the frustration with pace- the importance of describing a scene whilst keeping a good pace is such a difficult job. The line in between absolutely need to know and infodump is fine, indeed! 🙂 But… I think you’re glad you read this… because if you hadn’t you’d still be wondering about the book 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah me neither! I just knew then that I *had* to give it a go hahaha
      And absolutely, I am very happy to have read it but it definitely wasn’t a spectacular read.
      I’ve read City of Ghosts from her, and also ADSOM (a bit of the second book too) and I’ve enjoyed them so that’s why I know she can do much better. But this was her debut so it’s understandable and it was interesting to be able to see that progress 🙂

      Like

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