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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Edit: after careful consideration, I’ve decided to drop half a star as it just didn’t feel on par with other books with the same rating. (Original rating: 3 stars)
📖 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! 🙂