Published in September of last year and written by Hugo Award Nominee (and Doctor Who writer), Paul Cornell, Witches tells the story of a small town torn apart by magic and change.
When the Supermarket company of Sovo seeks entry into the rural community of Lychford, locals are split between the much needed job offers and the desire to keep their town unaffected by modern development. What most people of the town don’t realize is that Lychford rests at a crossroads, a place where parallel worlds of all kinds meet and are accessible, and Sovo plans will tear open the barriers from those worlds, allowing entry into our own.
Enter our three reluctant heroines; Judith is The Witch, old and cantankerous, living a lonely life with little contact other then her son, the local head of police and Sunil, a handsome older gentlemen. She is the first to suspect something is amiss, and is the only one in town able to see the denizens of these dark planes that seek entry through Lychford.
Next is Lizzie, the local vicar, newly returned from school and doubting her faith. A terrible accident has left her emotional scarred, and she goes in search of an old friend who she lost contact with years ago.
Her name is Autumn, and she is the final of our trio. Despite owning the local magic shop (Real magic, not card tricks and top hats), she doesn’t believe it truly works, sighting energy and faith as it’s two main influences, not actual power of any sort. She is also in extreme denial about her past, where one summer she had a dalliance with a faery prince.
The two friends go through a series of experiences that force them to believe Judith’s tale, and force them to look at their own pasts. Lizzie struggles with belief in herself as much as the church, while Autumn fights a past she has convinced herself never existed. Judith shepherds them along in a cantankerous manner, never allowing the girls to wallow for long in their self doubt and misery.
Meanwhile Judith struggles with the far reaching effects of her own history, a tale that left a bad taste in my mouth and more sympathy for the women then any other character. She has accepted her lonely life and understands that others think her mad, but still she sacrifices what little respect others have for her in a desperate attempt to keep them safe.
While touted as a creepy and sinister book, I was left unafraid by all but the opening scene, whose stark description left me breathless. And while I’m reluctant to call this an unhappy story, I was left speechless by the situation we discover Judith has been in for the passed ten years.
At only 143 pages, the pacing is swift, we are introduced to our leads then led off down old roads that run passed crumbling stone walls, to the ancient church, the local pub, and a couple places in between. Judith knows something is wrong, and she knows she can’t take care of it alone. She spends her first night convincing the younger women of the truth, and the rest of our story unfolds as they attempt to fight Sovo through conventional and metaphysical means.
I think Cornell did an excellent job with his characterization, I never felt like I was reading about strangers, the main characters felt like people I could meet in my own small community. And descriptions of the Sovo employees did well to illustrate the strange thought process of those driven by ignorance and greed.
My main complaint is most likely due to the length of novella itself, I never felt entirely threatened, or that the outside forces who claimed to be moving, were actually doing anything. We have a couple conversations, a man dies due to nearby shadows, a lorry knocks some bricks of a wall. I could have done with some disappearances, mustering fae armies, other witches arriving to help. But it’s just as likely Cornell wanted to keep things small and local, have the matters handled by the three woman with little outside assistance.
Final Conclusion: Worth the initial read, especially if you enjoyed the Doctor Who episodes Cornell wrote (Remember “Father’s Day”, all you Rose fans?).
On the note of final conclusions, I will most likely by finishing up future reviews with them. There will be only four options; Don’t read, read once, read immediately over again, and read every year until the binding falls apart and the pages are tea stained and you know you need a new copy but your emotionally attached to this one.