The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I was really disappointed in the Near Witch, which saddens me deeply. I was all excited to fall in love with it, but I just…I got stuck.
I read it on the plane coming home from a trip to Disney. It was the perfect book to pick for a late-night flight- spooky plot, absorbing description, deep enough to hold my attention and breezy enough to keep me from getting bogged down.
My problem mostly lay with the heroine. I was bored with her after the first few pages. As in literally 3% into the book (I read it on my Kindle) she was whining about “I’m sixteen! I don’t want to get married! I want to wear britches and boots like the boys!” This is probably the oldest fantasy heroine trope in the book. There might have been some eye-rolling, especially when she continued to be a generic sort of fantasy heroine- impulsive, rises nobly to the scary climactic occasion, loves and cares for her sibling without ever getting annoyed with them, gallivants off to the forest to do big scary adventure stuff. And the part that drove me the most nuts? Lexi. Her name is Lexi. It threw me for a loop every time. It was so modern in context of the rest of the characters, who had names like Otto and Helena and Edgar. And then…Lexi. It wasn’t even short for a long dramatic fantasy name. It was just…Lexi. I’m pretty sure at least one of my elementary students is named Lexi. It’s just so modern and strange.
And then we had the hero. Well, the antihero, I suppose, but he was equally as drippy as the heroine. He is the Mysterious Stranger (no, literally, a mysterious stranger that the whole town rallies with pitchforks and torches to kick out) who cannot remember his name (so Lexi names him Cole. Equally modern and equally distracting.) and is quite enigmatic and very sad and has a depressing backstory and also there is magic.
(Here comes a spoilery part.)
But the weirdest thing is that they fall in love. Which doesn’t seem weird because, you know, you sort of expect it in these kinds of books, but it’s just…it felt random. Lexi didn’t feel real and human to me yet, so I didn’t really feel invested in her love story. And then Cole was still a generic emo boy and I didn’t feel invested in him either, so…the love story felt hollow for me. It also threw me that he kissed Lexi to make himself feel better. It was a little more complicated than that, but basically every time I read a poetic description of their kiss, it sounded like he was kissing her to make himself feel better. Which is odd. And not at all a basis for a healthy relationship.
It still makes me sad that I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would. I love the author’s blog and I love the core of the story- that a long-dead witch is stealing the children of a small village. But I couldn’t get past the hero and heroine. Honestly, I would love to read the book from the POV of Helena, whose fragile little brother is the first child to go missing. It would have been more interesting and more emotionally satisfying to see Helena’s grief and terror over losing Edgar, and then seeing her rallying herself to go and find him- especially since she wouldn’t have Lexi’s convenient deus ex machina of magic. By the end of the book, it felt like Lexi and Cole were more important than the original main plotline- finding the children felt more like an afterthought than the crux of the story.