Bingo review 9: Debut
My first encounter with V.E. Schwab was Vicious, her break-out best-seller hit. This led me to A Darker Shade of Magic, and the rest as they say was history. I was intrigued when she announced that her original debut novel The Near Witch was going to be re-published.
I didn’t especially enjoy this one; the basic plot and characters are too predictable and it’s written in first person present tense, one of my least favorites. The plot and characters are obviously fairy tale based, with the disappearance of children, the local girl with a strong personality and desire to be recognized for her abilities (chosen one?), the old crones who are probably witches (helper figures?), the mysterious stranger (possible love interest?), the angry mob villager types (every village has this right?), and malevolent force that was wronged and must be appeased to solve the whole problem (naturally to be accomplished by girl and mysterious stranger). This in itself is not a problem, it’s just not terribly interesting to me. The whole thing has a tragedy-tinted tone to it, and I was strongly reminded of Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane (not my favorite of his works either), except that was published a few years after this was (at least, the first time) and The Near Witch feels a lot more like YA. There’s also a hint of Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching in the characterizations of Lexi and Cole, but without the clever language and original characters like the Nac Mac Feegle.
There are definitely hints of V.E. Schwab’s eventual signature style here, like the main characters who don’t want to or can’t follow the rules of the society they’re in, the tragic undertones yet overall hopeful or happy-ish ending, and the centering on the what I’m going to call magical realism for lack of a better term. This in not magical realism in the sense of genre; but it treats magic or other unknown forces as real enough to impact the world even if for most characters (except the main ones) it’s not something to recognize or embrace.
I’ve read some of Schwab’s other early work; the two published books in The Archived series were in my local library, and I enjoyed those. I was disappointed that there were no more, and not just because there’s a cliff-hanger at the end of book 2. Apparently, there might eventually be a book 3 (thus sayeth Goodreads), but that’s not the point. What made that series different for me was that there was definitely more originality in the characters, the world, and the plot.
I have to admit, if this was my first exposure to this author, I don’t know if I would have bothered looking up anything else she’s done.