“Our world with a bit of a twist” is getting to be the go-to trope for young adult fantasy stories. Not to say books like ‘Hunger Games‘ and ‘Divergent‘ aren’t exceptional and original takes in their own right, but it was refreshing to pick up a book written in the last two years that neither took place in a contemporary setting or felt it had to remain hip by tacking on steampunk furnishings to explain why the tale’s young people didn’t spend every waking minute texting one another.
‘The Near Witch’ by Victoria Schwab reads like a fairy tale for grown-ups, with action, danger, creepy curses, and, of course, romance.
Lexi lives in the town of Near and has taken to caring for her mother and younger sister Wren now that her father has passed away. The small town is surrounded by whispering woods and sprawling plains, with many creepy legends in its long history. Dismissed as superstition, the stories are distant folklore not to be taken seriously, and the townsfolk lead simple country lives where everyone knows everyone else.
When Lexi spots a boy out on the moors who seems to disappear into the shadows, she’s equal parts frightened and intrigued by the stranger. The next day, the first of the town’s children is discovered to be missing from his bedroom, and as each night brings a new disappearance, the stranger’s presence becomes more and more suspect. For reasons she can’t name, Lexi doesn’t think the young stranger is at fault, prompting her to dive deeper into the town’s history before hastily joining the others in a witch hunt.
Poetically written, this book was a bit more about the journey than the destination. I could probably sum up the rest of the book in a few more paragraphs, and as someone who craves a thick and lustrous plot, this one came up lacking. However, the characters and lore, the beautifully described village and fantastical occurrences were what really drove this story forward and kept me enraptured page after page.
A lot of the tale was predictable, but there were enough twists and eerie turns to keep me reading. The story does skew a bit romantic and whimsical, so if you’re looking for daring swordfights and raucous action, you may want to look elsewhere.
But if you have a healthy respect for creepy lore and forbidden romance, however, this is the book for you.