Tor novella, out now
The return of ancient forces means that old alliances must be rekindled…
Paul Cornell’s novella very definitely feels like the start of a new series – although the specific threat that’s raised in this story is dealt with, the situation is rife with possibilities. I would certainly welcome spending more time with the titular Witches, all now once more residents of the small village but with vastly different life experiences.
Each is a credibly drawn character, each with one foot in the secular world, and the other in the spiritual, even if the definition of that may differ from person to person. One has taken holy orders, and has recently been appointed the vicar of the parish church (and has great faith that her organist won’t be coming in to practise regularly given a hiding-place that she selects during the course of the story!). Another has dedicated her life to the protection of the village (and one has to take it, the world) despite assorted problems at home – and Cornell throws a real curveball into her backstory towards the end that I want to learn more about. The third (and of course there are three) grew up with the vicar but their paths diverged – and the truth about her recent past forms one of the lynchpins of the tale.
Cornell paints village and parish life realistically: this isn’t The Vicar of Dibley with clichéd local characters – it’s nearer Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series in that respect in its portrayal of both those in the ministry and in local politics. The fantasy elements are handled equally matter of factly, which makes them resonate much more strongly.
Verdict: Some very effective writing and strong characters make this an engrossing read. 8/10