The first look might throw you. Witches of Lychford is not a large book – only 133 reading pages – but author Paul Cornell, a veteran of writing for comic books and Doctor Who novels, knows how to pack a punch in a small space.
The citizens of the quaint English town of Lychford are split about the proposed Sovo “superstore” that has petitioned to build in the heart of the town. Half the folks fear that the traditional character of the town would be lost to generic blandness, the other half yearns for the jobs that the store would generate.
But Judith Mawson knows the real reason why the store cannot be built – and why powerful forces are in play to ensure that it will be – which surprisingly has nothing to do with corporate profits. Judith is seventy-one years old and has been a fixture in Lychford the entire time. She is crotchety, doesn’t like most everybody, believes in “weird stuff” and has a history of fearsome confrontation which has most of the people in town afraid of her even as they laugh at her behind her back. Nobody says “witch” out loud, but everyone thinks it. She would agree with them if they dared to ask.
Newly ordained Lizzie Blackmore has recently returned to Lychford to take up the mantle at St. Martin’s, an ancient vicarage with an aging congregation. She had grown up in Lychford, along with her best friend Autumn. But Lizzie has changed in the last five years. It started when Autumn dropped out of her life shortly after she left for theological college. Lizzie had left messages and emails, but they were never returned. Then Joe came along. Sweet, happy go lucky Joe, who made her so very happy – until the accident. The accident that everyone, including the police, said was not her fault. But if it wasn’t her fault, why did she still feel such a need to atone for something she couldn’t control?
And then there’s Lizzie’s wayward friend, Autumn, the atheist who runs the town’s magic and potions shop, The Witches. “It’s complicated,” she tells Lizzie, when the two finally met again after years of silence; everything about Autumn seems complicated. Autumn is clearly uncomfortable around Lizzie, but she refuses to talk about it, even though she knows that Lizzie yearns for – and desperately needs – the friendship they once shared.
These three woman find themselves at the center of the controversy; not because of their beliefs, actually, but because of their experiences, and their ability to see, and feel, the deeper consequences of the movement that is afoot. Lizzie with her questioning faith, Autumn with her sarcastic wit which hides sorrow and regret, and Judith with her uncompromising disdain for the very people she is vigilant at protecting. When each of them comes to face evil in their own way (and author Cornell can conjure up a downright chilling villain), the encounters are terrifying.
At times hair-raising, at times hilarious, Witches of Lychford is a story that straddles both the sublime (magic, ley lines, fairy folk) and the mundane (urban development, council meetings, zoning issues) in a wonderful synthesis of a story we all can relate to, and marvel at. It is fast paced without feeling rushed, which is pretty amazing given how many factors get pulled into the story, not the least of which is faith, both in each other and in those things greater than ourselves.
Did I say this book was slim? Slim, perhaps, but definitely not small. And definitely very satisfying.