Witches of Lychford is every bit as beautiful as its truly lovely cover (somewhat reminiscent of the posters for my favorite ’90s teen witch flick, The Craft) suggests. Like its cover, Witches is a story painted in subtle tones to develop its themes with both a clear sensibility for small town life and a gentle humor that makes it a joy to read.
The story deals largely with themes related to the disruption and destruction of small towns by corporate interests. The villain here seems to me a pretty thinly veiled reference to Walmart (or Asda, I suppose, in the UK), and we learn that what’s at risk is not just destruction of the expected small town community virtues but also the destruction of the border between two worlds.
The really standout aspect of this novella, though, is its characters. The three women around whom the story revolves all have their own separate and unique personalities and character arcs, which unfold at a pace that is both tightly managed to fit inside just 144 pages but also leisurely enough to be enjoyable reading. Judith, Lizzie, and Autumn are exactly the sorts of women that I love to read about: smart, funny, brave, resourceful, flawed enough to feel real and with just the right amount of magic. They’re also supported by a cast of small-town characters that feel familiar without the use of any tired tropes and have enough depth to make me care about them and become even more invested in what happens to their town by making Lychford feel like a real place.
The plot is simple and straightforward, which is ideal for novella length works. It’s never too complicated and Paul Cornell has a real gift for knowing just how best to develop his story and characters. While the urgency of the story builds throughout the book, events never feel rushed, and emotional moments happen exactly when they need to. The ending is satisfying, but it isn’t too tidy or trite, and it’s open-ended enough that I could easily see this story being continued in another novella or novel.
Recommended reading for a lazy Sunday afternoon in fall. I’d suggest making a day of just reading and watching stuff with witches in it. Combine with Practical Magic, Hocus Pocus, and something pumpkin spice flavored.