I should probably warn you guys that at the end of August my brain flips a switch that is my transition from summer to autumn. My attention turns from watermelon and sunshine filled pools to colorful leaves, Halloween, and inevitably to witches. I blame Casper and Harry Potter.
The Near Witch
This book keeps popping up in the circles I travel in online and now I know why: because it’s completely amazing. It’s a charming combination of childhood fairytales, moxie, and affection. This means that really, it’s quite perfect for my autumnal moods.
Lexi is very familiar with the legend of the Near Witch. Her father told her stories of the witch when she was a child, even going so far as to write them down in a journal when she asked him to. This story begins when the arrival of a stranger to Near. Lexi sees him through her window when he arrives, a fuzzy image in the dark night with fading edges like an old photograph. It seems inevitable that she would need to find him, even more so when the first child goes missing.
I want you to know that I did try to find something wrong with this book. I searched for something that would temper it back from being as pleasant as it was, but there’s nothing. This book is absolute perfection. I would change nothing. Literally.
Schwab painted her characters like Caravaggio painted the saints. They stand out crisply on the page. She must have had a clear picture of each character when she was writing because she never wavered from that image at all. It’s impressive really because it’s for every single character. The way she describes Lexi’s mother as floating from place to place or Dreska as all sharp corners, even her cane, is flawless. It felt like my mind’s eye didn’t have to work at all to see the village of Near or the windswept moors.
You can probably blame the fact that I went through my formative years with Buffy for that fact that I love, love, love stories about girls/women who don’t subvert themselves to their gender roles. Lexi’s complete rejection of the role her uncle tries to force on her is heroic. She never even stops to consider just passively accepting the shelf he’s trying to put her on, like some porcelain relic. Instead, she does exactly what her father taught her how to do, hunt and track. People, this girl chops wood, not because she’s told to, but because she had energy to burn and the pile was low. This is how heroines should be: fearlessly moving through their world with complete disregard to the people who tell them that they need to go do the womanly work. Because really, in this day and age, f&%k that. What I love the most about this is that she says exactly that in a world that isn’t this day and age. There are no computers or central air. She’s chopping wood for Pete’s sake.
In fact, Schwab made pretty much all of her female characters women who don’t scrape or grovel. They stand tall, even if they were diminished by the loss of their husband. The men in this story are a more complex nut to crack. Though many of them are blinded by the bullshit they’ve built up around themselves out of fear of the witch/strong female, some are more multi-faceted than that. Hell, one is straight up maliciously evil. Lexi’s uncle struck me as surprisingly complex. You can watch him struggle with the need to keep Lexi and her little sister safe and his guilt over their father’s death. He has moments of softness that are shocking when they appear.
When it comes to the story, itself, I found it to be delightfully compelling. The sense of immediacy is never dropped. The climax is absolutely thrilling. From the speed of the story to the pitch to the archetypes, everything felt so naturally right.
5 ink bottles and everything that’s in the drawer. I can’t recommend this enough. If you have an afternoon, take this book, find a comfortable chair and brew yourself some tea. It is so worth it.