I’m a big fan of Paul Cornell’s writing, although I didn’t discover his books until this summer. I devoured the Shadow Police series, and gave The Witches of Lychford a go even though I was surprised by how short it was at barely 144 pages. When I saw that the sequel to it was available to request on NetGalley, my hand moved so fast to the ‘request’ button that it probably blurred, and I was delighted to be approved for it because I wasn’t sure I could wait until the 22nd (which is when I believed it to come out).
Seems there’s been some confusion about the release date — NetGalley must have lied to me, because I saw on Twitter the other day that it had been released! Which means this review is a week late, rather than two weeks early. There goes my careful scheduling. Ah, well. Better late than never, right?
As I’ve already mentioned, these are short books, with this one even a few pages shorter than the first. I was a huge fan of the characters in Witches, and sad that I didn’t get to spend more time with them, but thankfully this book allowed me to re-enter that world.
Paul Cornell has definitely mastered the short novel in a way that many writers frustratingly fail to do. (I’m not sure if this is technically short enough to be a novella.) While I was left hungry for more, the book itself didn’t feel incomplete or rushed, and it read like a story that had been given the time it needed to be told. I’ve read a few novellas lately that have felt more like the outline for a longer book than a story in their own right, but this isn’t one of them.
I enjoyed the return to the cast of three very different female characters as seen in book one. For those who haven’t read it (I don’t think I reviewed it here), there’s a female vicar called Lizzie, the town weirdo Judith, and Autumn, who runs a magic shop. As ever, it’s a delight to see such different women reacting to their circumstances in their own way, showing their personalities and temperament.
I also can’t get over how enjoyable it is to read about a female vicar. I’m not sure whether it’s my Christian upbringing playing into my taste here, but it’s so rare — in life and in fiction! — and Lizzie’s remarkably believable as fictional vicars go, as well as entertaining. One of my favourite moments was when she wondered if her services needed an introductory video to explain a few of the more esoteric aspects: “Previously in Christianity…”
This book featured fewer fairies than the first book, and more unidentified eldritch creatures. Once or twice there were loose ends that I hoped would be wrapped up, but which remained dangling, but I imagine that’s more because it’s a series than because they were forgotten. Unexpectedly, this book even had a slight romance subplot, but to my relief it contributed to the plot rather than intruding, and was a fairly minor aspect anyway.
Of course, the disadvantage of having read an ARC is that now I have to wait even longer for Cornell’s next offering (whether in this series or Shadow Police), and I’m not sure I can bear that. Why does he have to be so talented?
(I can’t decide which of the series I like best: in some ways, these click with me more than the Shadow Police ones, largely because they’re dominated by great female characters, but I do enjoy the London setting of the others and I’m a sucker for magical crime. So I’m torn.)
Anyway. While I was left wanting, ultimately I was satisfied by the short length of this, and delighted to have got it from NetGalley so I could enjoy it even sooner. I think Cornell’s going on my auto-buy list.