— DISCLAIMER: I received a free review copy of this book via Titan Books in exchange for a honest review. Many thanks to Titan Books, Lydia Gittins, and V.E. Schwab for this opportunity. —
Now, I actually received this wonderful little parcel a couple of weeks ago, making an already good day into a great one – coming home after finding out that I got into a competitive MA that will allow me to pursue my dream of a career in publishing, I found a little golden package in my mailbox, containing an early copy of The Near Witch. I had applied for a review copy a little earlier, but hadn’t actually expected to be considered, so I’m super grateful for this opportunity! While I immediately started reading and devoured the book (congrats on another great one, V!) I ended up distracted by major life decisions and an (academic) article deadline last week, as well as a stolen phone. But now that that’s all sorted out, have a review of The Near Witch!
STAR RATING: 5 ✶
PUBLICATION DATE: 12.03.2019 (republication)
SUMMARY: The town of Near does not like strangers. At all. So, when a strange young man appears to wander the streets and children go missing, the blame is easily assigned. However, Lexi believes that there is more to the story, and the old local legend of the Near Witch than the men of the town seem to accept, so she fights against hope for the survival of the missing children and the handsome stranger.
OPINIONS: Once again, Victoria manages to build a world that pulls you in, and does not want to let you leave again. I could not put down this book, which I would most accurately depict as a dark, whimsical fairy tale, addressing the issue of Xenophobia.
While Lexi does tend to fall into tropes common in YA novels published in the early 2010s, such as the insta-love with the mysterious stranger, these issues do not detract from the magic of the story as a whole. Lexi has much to offer in the way of a role-model for young girls, encouraging them to stand up for themselves and carve their own role in society. And this is the point where V’s magic comes in: she manages to take odd, outcast characters who are struggling, and make them appealing, making the reader take part in these struggles. Here, she grabs you and confronts you with blatant xenophobia, not that different to the one experienced by many minorities today, estranges you from your known world, and makes you want to fight for equality! I do hope that this message gets across to other readers as well, showing that literature does have an impact on our mentality.
And then we have the story. All the elements necessary to make me fall in love are there: dark and gloomy atmosphere, whimsical writing, strong characters, and a driven plot. For me, it most closely resembles a fairy tale, which has been one of my preferred genres to read, as it allows for the most beautiful, whimsical writing, with no intent to connect it to reality. Following the disappearances of several children from the village of Near, Lexi is the only one capable of seeing past the stranger, who appeared around the same time, and follows the old folk tales of the Near Witch. She realizes that there is more to the story than the village believes, and works to rehabilitate the past, something our society should work on more.
All in all, this is a wonderful book, to which I give the full five stars without hesitating. Thank you, Victoria, for being ahead of your time and fighting to get this story another chance! I myself regret only that I had not read it when it first came out – having found it on an old amazon wishlist recently – as it came out during a phase where I was silly enough not to read any books with less than 300 pages as a strategy to save money. I could have fallen in love with this so much earlier! Go forth, and read the Near Witch!