“If the wind calls at night, you must
not listen. The wind is lonely, and
always looking for company.”
Only hunters and witches inhabit the outskirts of Near. From the North, the East, South and West, the village is surrounded by a seemingly endless moor that rolls out like waves across the sea. Lexi, her mother, and younger sister Wren live on the edge of Near. Lexi and her mother still battle the grief of her father’s death, but we come to know him through Lexi. Her father imparted to her his skills and wisdom before he passed; she can swing an axe and throw a knife, but most importantly she can track. Lexi reads the wild, untamed moor like a book.
On a night when the sky is dark, where not a silver slither of moonlight or a star’s shimmer can be seen over Near, Lexi notices a new note in the tune of the wind. That same night, she glimpses a boy who seems to appear for a moment, then vanish as if carried off by a gust of wind. The next morning a child has vanished from their bed. In the isolated town suspicion falls upon the stranger. But whilst the village men, led by Lexi’s astringent uncle, set out to persecute the only new face in Near, Lexi gets to know him. As they grow closer, Lexi becomes adamant he is not to blame. Far more sinister forces are targeting the town of Near. Answers await beyond the moor.
The Near Witch is a classic underdog story and Lexi is your stereotypical, Katniss Everdeen-esque heroine. The strong characterisation and vivid and elaborate naturistic language Schwab uses immerses readers in the landscape of the novel. It makes readers feel as though they are as at one with nature as Lexi. Schwab paints how deeply the connection between Near and the surrounding moor runs.
I would have proclaimed this book a literary masterpiece when I was 13, and at 20 I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Bear in mind this book is aimed at YA readers so of course it contains a cliché romantic subplot. But it also contains a haunting mystery and a bold, brave and relentless heroine fighting for what she believes in. The Near Witch has this beautiful, rustic, folklore-ish feel to it that drags you into the story. It leaves you feeling like the wind, rain and earth, all fizzling with magic.