Review: Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Posted by DarkChaplain at 8/30/2016
Traveler, Cleric, Witch.

The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment.
Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth -- that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination.
But if she is to have her voice heard, she's going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies...
This is another novella from Tor I discovered during my novella-binge earlier in the year. I read it a couple of weeks ago, but as I am currently reading the sequel, I figured now's the time for the review.

The Story:
"Traveler, Cleric, Witch.
The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment.
Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth -- that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination.
But if she is to have her voice heard, she's going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies..."

Disclaimer
I did not receive an ARC for this book, but I did for the sequel, The Lost Child of Lychford, which prompted me to read this novella. Also, I am a little disappointed at the author's use of blocklists on Twitter. Those may both be factors that influenced this review, so keep those in mind.

The Review:
Witches of Lychford entered my field of vision back in January when I was on my novella binge and checked Tor's various offerings. When I found an eARC of the sequel, The Lost Child of Lychford, in my mailbox, I figured I should give it a go - and found something genuinely amusing and exciting.

The story kicks off with the old, witchy Judith walking the town of Lychford. She enters the stage leaving no doubt of her eccentricity; she swears, she professes her dislike for people, and she finds that something very bad is going on in the town she watches over - besides a giant corporation trying to build a new supermarket and ruffling feathers left and right, literally splitting the town's population in half over the issue.
Judith, with all her sharp edges and odd manners, is a joy to read. She has her way, and has long since stopped giving a damn about what others think of her. Of course, that sees her shunned by the other residents, which makes her attempts to prevent Lychford's doom a little difficult.

Following on, Cornell introduces the second "Witch" of Lychford, Reverend Lizzie Blackmore, who just recently returned to the small town to become the new vicar of Lychford's church. Her troubles are immediately apparent. Throughout the book, she has a bit of an identity problem, related to her faith. While she finally got her dream job, she is wavering, and struggles to get back in touch with her old friend, Autumn.

Autumn, Lizzie comes to learn, opened a witchcraft store in town, despite her strong atheistic tendencies. She, too, has a troubled past, though of an entirely different kind than Lizzie. And yes, she is the third Witch of the book, rounding off the trio.

I was less interested in Autumn here, due to her (past) romance plotline and her being more of a social butterfly. She was written well, but Lizzie's trauma and Judith's situation back at home and her standing in the community appealed to me more. Still, all three of them had their parts to play (albeit that Lizzie's was less active than that of the other two, something she herself remarks upon later), and complemented one another exceptionally well.
Autumn tended to bring a more rational, semi-scientific angle to the table whereas Lizzie tried to use faith instead, half to convince herself of it than to find a solution. Both had to confront their own biases more than once, and accept that there is more between heaven and hell than they'd have previously thought.
Judith meanwhile fulfills the role of old wise woman who has seen it all and knows what's up but has never gotten around to having an apprentice - so of course she'd recruit these two.

With the trio being written so lively and genuinely funny, with Judith mocking the others all over and the other two's various reactions or attitudes, I was happy to spend time with them, and would like more stories to be written about them and Lychford. Thankfully, there's already one sequel coming up.

The conflict within the story mostly arises from Lychford's spiritual borders weakening and the town tearing itself apart over the supermarket situation. The witches have to find a solution to both problems, with clever tricks and magic and all you'd expect. The antagonist comes in the form of the big corporation and how streamlined systems like store chains disrupt the calm of tradition and community life in favor of profits and convenience. I liked that. While the sentiment may be as old as modern capitalism, meshing it with a world of magic and eccentricity worked well and provided a good basis for the narrative.

Witches of Lychford was a great read. It offered capable, quirky protagonists, a well-developed dilemma and a lot of mystery and subtle magic. It made me laugh and had me read it almost in one go. It has a few themes that could have been explored a little more, but overall was satisfying and relaxing, despite the doom and gloom. The witches feel like good people, and certainly are good company for the reader.

Witches of Lychford on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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