Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Near Witch

The Near Witch, by Victoria Schwab, is a very "elemental" story. It makes you feel so close to the earth and to the wind that you could almost disappear in them, just like you disappear into the strange village of Near in the book.

The main character is the teenager Lexi, who has inherited her father's ability to track and hunt. The rest of the villagers are bent on keeping her at home and under wraps, especially when children begin disappearing from the village at night.

You have to admire Lexi's determination to keep sneaking out at night, trying to track down what has happened to the children, even when the nights get spookier and spookier, and nothing is quite like it seems, even the crows.

The moor is a character itself in this story, surrounding the village like the ocean surrounds an island. It leaves you wondering if the rest of the world even still exists. The moor is also spooky in a lyrical, tingling way:
The moor always seems to be eating things. Half digested rocks and logs jut out from the sloping hillsides.
My favorite characters were the old witch sisters, Magda and Dreska. Like everything else on the seam between the village and the moor, you are never sure exactly what their motives are. 
They look as old as dirt. I imagine I see small pieces crumbling off them, but when I look again, they are still all there.
Then there is the Near Witch - even more ambiguous than the sisters.
She was very old and very young, depending on which way she turned her head, for no one knows the age of witches.
There is also this interesting development:
I hold out my hand, let my fingers brush against the cyclone wall. And then another set of fingers slices through the wind, touches mine, intertwines with mine.
But to say too much about this character (except that yes, there is definitely a romantic development!), or the Near Witch, would spoil the story, especially as each page slowly builds tension after mysterious tension into a pounding crescendo of spookiness.

I loved how prejudice is handled in this story - it's real and it's frightening. But the author does an amazing job handling it. That was what impressed me most about this book. It's like a sophisticated fable about prejudice, all wrapped inside a ghost story with the ribbon of a love story winding around it.

What's your favorite book about overcoming prejudice? Mine will always be To Kill a Mockingbird, but the Near Witch is on my list now, too.

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