This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
In Witches of Lychford, Paul Cornell takes the idea of witches being people (and particularly women) who are tasked in some way to protect the humdrum population from things they don’t understand. Here, the place is a bog-standard (on the outside) English village, which is facing a very real and common threat: a giant supermarket chain wanting to move into the village and Change Things. On the face of it those things are alarming enough for those who are traditionalist, or who moved to the country to get away from big business and the corporate nature of the modern world. Underneath, though, is a far more alarming truth – that changing things in Lychford, such as boundary markers and the like, could have devastating results for the way the ‘real’ world interacts with the world of Faery and other, more malignant dimensions.
Cornell’s focus is on the three women who might have a chance to do something about this. By far my favourite is Judith Mawson: at 71, she has “a list of what she didn’t like, and almost everything – and everybody – in Lychford was on it.” There’s a point late in the story where she grudgingly tells someone they are not on that list. Cranky old women for the win, I say. Judith is competent but not a superhero; she gets things done and grumbles about it – and sometimes she fails. Also, her tragedy is absolutely and completely appalling.
The other two women were less convincing to me. Having read a few of these Tor novellas it’s striking to see some of the similarities – I don’t know whether it’s deliberate or if it’s just fallen out that way in my reading. But there are some similarities in theme between this and Angela Slatter’s Of Sorrow and Such, and in one of the young women there’s a link to Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway because she spent time in the land of Faery and has been damaged by it. Her friend is the newly-arrived pastor, whose faith has been challenged by events in her past and who is really not feeling like she fits into the parish, where she herself grew up. Lizzie, the pastor, and Autumn both felt rather flat to me – especially coming off the back of McGuire and Slatter. Their issues were less emotionally gripping than I would have liked and they did not especially appeal to me as people, either (or perhaps concurrently). Nor did their role in solving the problems feel like it was fundamental.
Despite this problem of characterisation, I did still enjoy the book. It’s not a significant addition to the fiction on witches, or the real/faery divide, but it’s an interesting story and there are some lovely moments.