It's really easy to see how much time and thought debut author Victoria Schwab has successfully invested into the wording of her witchy kidnapping tale. Each sentence has been set carefully into the mosaic of legends, winds that have a soul and everyday life inside of the small town of Near, which is located within an endless stretch of moor and forest, far away from the rest of the pre-industrial civilization.
Although the description did not interest me at all, when I first encountered an announcement of its publication, enthusiastic reviews of fellow readers whose opinion I value high, made me change my mind: The language skill, the fairytale-like atmosphere, the notions of horror and suspense and a sweet supernatural romance with an unpredictable boy convinced me that I had dismissed a probable future favorite too carelessly.
I bought the book and I moved it up the waiting line. I started reading - and although I truly admired the style, and although I can understand how talking winds, buried witch bones from centuries before and boys that fade in the air lead to fairy-tale comparisons and how the disappearance of one child per night in a tiny, inaccessible community can be labeled "thrilling", I felt neither noteworthily thrilled or bespelled or horrified. On the contrary: Apart from being angry at sexist and mulish uncle Otto, his side-kick Bo and occasionally heroine Lexi herself, I just felt disappointed ... and rather bored. The title of the book gives a lot away, so I practically knew what caused the disastrous deduction of the town's number of inhabitants even before Lexi, who was only convinced of mysterious Cole not being the culprit and who wanted to track and play detective just like her deceased father, who - in contrast to Otto and chauvi childhood buddy Taylor (in search of an obedient little wife among the handful of maidens) - did not look down on his daughter for wanting to do men's work. In addition the rather slim volume turned out to contain a lot of repetitive scenes (looking for clues in the village, listening to the wind, trying to steal out of the house etc., etc.)
Maybe the love story will be grand, I still hoped after a third of the story had been ingested with some drag to the spoon. Well. You have seen my rating. You know how this story ends: Looking leads to wanting to meet, meeting leads to hand-holding, hand-holding leads to kissing and to blind trusting and to secrets being revealed and so on: Instant attraction - or "cabin lust" - for a raven-eyed, silent stranger, because all the other boys are like brothers. Besides, all the time Lexi has no problem at all finding Cole when she wants to, although the angry mob of the whole male population is out for his blood.
Both the dark, restrictive, claustrophobic community and the relationship the heroine had with the boy everybody expects her to wed reminded me strongly of 'The Forest of Hands and Teeth', although the latter is a post-apocalyptic zombie story and develops a completely different story-line. If you got the same vibe and know why, please tell me.
I do not want to persuade anybody against reading or buying this beautifully written story with its fitting cover. But if you are still undecided and on the verge of being pushed over the brim by infatuated reviewers, I do advise you to wait a little longer: For more reviews balancing things out and making things clearer - or simply for the paperback.