Publisher: Hyperion (2011)
Format: Hardcover | 288 pages
Genre(s): Fantasy, Young Adult
Description (Goodreads): "The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.And there are no strangers in the town of Near.These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.
But when an actual stranger—a boy who seems to fade like smoke—appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.
The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion. Still, he insists on helping Lexi search for them. Something tells her she can trust him.
As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know—about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.
Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget."
I am now convinced that no matter how much I tell myself (and everyone else) that I will not (or should not) put stock in all the raving, gushing reviews for certain books, I'll always end up being influenced by them. "The Near Witch" is another unfortunate example. I should have known that the book simply couldn't be as good as advertised... and it wasn't.
Oh, don't get me wrong, I liked the concept. Even after reading the book and being thoroughly disappointed by it I still like it. If I didn't not even a gazillion positive reviews would have made me buy it.
Unfortunately the concept is all that's good about this book. It starts and ends with the concept. Instead of the intriguing paranormal mystery I'd been promised, I got a book riddled with YA cliches from the insta-romance to the brooding male character and a 'Katniss-clone'; for Lexi, our female protagonist is very strong and can use a knife... oh yes.
As if horribly stereotyped characters weren't bad enough, the world building was weak, weak, weak. The action takes place in Near, an isolated village in... we don't know. Is it in America? The Moon? Some fantasy land? We're never told. I reckon the author was trying to make everything oh-so-mysterious by not telling us where it was, trying to make it clear that Near was very isolated and all, but it was way too much. There is simply no context at all when it comes to place, time and culture in this book.
For example we know women wear dresses and there is no electricity but when does the action take place? Again, we're not told. In the past? Future? Some medieval fantasy land? Who knows? Not the reader. It drove me mad throughout the book. No, really. It simply didn't work for me, it held no mystique it was simply annoying.
As for the story, it was neither well developed nor nearly as interesting as the blurb made it out to be. The culprit was pretty obvious and the mystery insipid. Even the writing was annoying. I mean it would have been great if the characters were complex enough to match it, but since they weren't... ugh.
Overall, a very disappointing read. Weak world building, annoying insta-romance and very badly developed plot. Nice concept, though. And great wording, the author was going for poetic, I suppose, to add 'depth' to the story. But that was only partially achieved, since the entire book was uneven and pretty random. 288 pages were insufficient to properly tell this story.