Today, Victoria Schwab stopped by A Backwards Story to give a second interview (first one here.) and give away some autographed bookmarks!
The Near Witch is beautiful, full of stunning descriptions that make readers feel as though they’re actually there. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something where the words could visually paint pictures in my head in such vibrant detail. Victoria Schwab creates her own folklore in a way that feels realistic, from bedtime stories to children’s nursery rhymes. The standalone novel has ghost-story elements as well; at times, my skin crawled from the creepiness of the descriptions. THE NEAR WITCH is fluid and builds at a steady pace, pulling readers in until it’s impossible to put the book down. The writing is so strong; it’s hard to believe this is Schwab’s debut novel. I wish there was a backlist of titles to delve into next.
This review is going to be another hard one to write. I loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED THE NEAR WITCH. I had a feeling I would before I ever read this one, which, of course, usually leads to a big letdown. Not this time, though: My expectations were more than met. While I built it up in my mind, I didn't even--couldn't even--begin to anticipate how amazing Schwab’s talent actually is. I thought I was there in the town of Near. The visuals descriptions are so poetic and lovely that there are several passages I will return to time and again. There were times when the imagery was downright creepy, full of sinew and earth in a way that gives readers goosebumps. THE NEAR WITCH is perfect to read on an atmospheric day. I finished reading the novel on a gray, overcast, windy day. Wind plays a large part in the novel, taking on a life of its own and becoming a living, breathing character. Listening to the wind howling outside my window as I read pulled me even further into the novel. Paired with Schwab’s lifelike descriptions, I was truly there as I read.
THE NEAR WITCH takes place in the town of Near, the kind of small, uneventful town always found in a fairy tale. While the novel reads like one, it’s truly its own story, with no ties to any particular tale from the past. Schwab completely created her own world, one complete with nursery rhymes and old wives tales that lend to the creepiness of the tale. Lexi and her sister Wren grew up listening to their father tell tales of the Near witch, who supposedly lived long ago. No one believes she really existed, but when children start disappearing from their beds, Lexi slowly begins to wonder if the town has forgotten something important. No one else seems to notice the way the wind picks up at night, the strange occurrences. They’re focused on the fact that a stranger named Cole has come to Near on the eve of the disappearances and believe him to be the culprit. Even Lexi wonders, since she saw him that first night. The first visual description of Cole has him smudged around the edges and almost supernatural, bringing an eerie element to the book from the beginning. Unlike most teen novels these days that are full of insta-love, the romance between Lexi and Cole unfurls slowly, naturally, mimicking the pace of the plot. Granted, the timeframe in which they fall in love is a little fast, but there was still something very natural about it, nothing contrived. As Lexi’s questions about Cole and the mystery of who is kidnapping children grows, so does the realization that Lexi’s sister Wren is now a target. Lexi will stop at nothing to save her sister, even if it means that the guy she’s fallen for truly is what everyone in Near is saying…or even if something more supernatural has occurred.
This book is so lush and beautiful, a rare treat to be savored and not rushed through, though the mystery Schwab weaves for readers is impossible to put down. Here’s a look at some of the gorgeous description I keep referring to (though my FAVORITE description comes at the end and I refuse to list spoilers here):
[All pages from nook edition of e-arc; changes may have been made before the book launched in print]
“Outside, the night is still and streaked with silver threads of light, and the wind is breathing against the glass, a wobbling hum that causes the old wooden frame to groan.” (pg. 9)
“His form is smudged at the edges, blurring into the night on either side, as if he’s moving very fast, but it must be the weathered glass, because he’s not moving at all.” (pg. 10)
“The air around us seems to shiver, and the wind brushes cool against us. I take a sharp breath in as the wind coils around his outstretched hand. It spins faster until it looks like his fingers are bleeding into it. Then they grow thinner until I can see right through them, until there is no difference between the swirling wind and his skin.” (pg. 143)
And finally, would you like a touch of creepiness to really get you craving this book?
"She climbed up and out onto the moor.
Now her skin is really made of moor grass.
Now her blood is made of moor rain.
Now her voice is made of moor wind.
Now the Near Witch is made of moor.
And she is furious." (pg. 172)
I’ve seen the finished cover of THE NEAR WITCH and the internet image doesn’t do it justice. It has beautiful white swirly embossing that makes the curtains truly stand out and look like curtains. Those are not just random swirlies making the cover pretty, bookworms! The cover is haunting and mimics the way Lexi peers out her window, hearing the wind calling, seeing blurs of things that may or may not be there. I like the cover even more now that I’ve seen it in person, especially since it’s a little more three-dimensional than some of the other covers out there!
[This entry is part of The Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge of 2011. See how I've done so far here.]