“The Lost Child of Lychford” by Paul Cornell

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?

lost-child

Publication date: November 1st, 2016

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.

Rating: ****

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