I bought The Near Witch because I heard it was set on the English moors and involved a mystery and romance. Those are pretty much my three favorite elements in a novel.
It's hard for me to review this book, because it's successful for what it was meant to be (a fairy tale) but it wasn't the gothic paranormal romance I was expecting. This isn't a failing on the author's part, just a misalignment with my expectations as a reader. Schwab's debut novel is a beautiful, simple story of families and a community coming to understand and overcome its fears, with a little magic and legend thrown in.
The action takes place in a moorland village some unspecified time in the past where the women wear long skirts, the stone houses have thatched roofs, and the washing is done in a stream. I grew up reading the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens, so that's the sort of dialogue I was expecting. Instead the language was mostly contemporary, including many of the character names. (I don't think people were named Lexi and Tyler in 1800s England, but I could be wrong!)
The plot is simple and linear, and there was never much question in my mind of who is taking the children, but the mystery isn't the point of the story. The lure of book is in the atmosphere and mood Schwab sets, not in any complicated plotting or character development. Fairy tales aren't really concerned with growth or change in their characters, and neither is The Near Witch. It's about the haunting moors, the wind, and the strange witches. (Also, I've never come across male witches in any book. They're always called something else, like wizard or warlock.)
I didn't really buy into the romance, because all we really know about Cole is that he has a tragic past and is sad most of the time. While I understand this was integral to his character, it made him hard to warm up to. If you're looking for a paranormal romance, that's not really the focus of the book.
The book contains only a couple instances of mild swearing, and nothing beyond some rather chaste kisses so it would be appropriate for younger teens.
Rating: Three Cupcakes