I bought Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell by mistake (hit “Buy” vs “See”) and what a happy mistake it turned out to be! The characters live in Lychford, an English town fallen on harder times. A big chain store wants permission to build a store on the edge of town, promising jobs and an economic boost that have bedazzled most town folk.
The problem is that Lychford sets on a locus, defining boundaries between multiple worlds. Destroy the town boundary and you destroy the world boundaries. That sets the story.
Cornell sketches in the characters enough to capture our interest but the book is short and we don’t really know any of them. None of them are witches in the traditional sense, more guardians of the borders.
Lizzie is a modern vicar, meaning she believes more or less and wants to overlook sin. She is new to her parish and learning to tread among the factions in town and church and looking for a friend. We see the tension between her belief (a bit tenuous but real) and her moral sense and her training to not “judge” anyone.
Autumn spent a year in Fairy and can’t quite believe it. She has been in and out of mental hospitals and is a thorough skeptic. The book doesn’t show why Autumn owns a magic shop since she doesn’t believe in magic (or God or anything).
Judith is an interesting old lady, antisocial and rude, the sort of person kids make fun of. She is the only one who has any clue about Lychford’s special nature or any training in magic. She takes the other two ladies on as allies only because she is desperate. Judith is the most complete character. Our knees ache along with hers as she walks home and climbs the steps to her apartment on misty nights.
We know a little more about each lady at the end of the story. Cornell does a good job on dialogue and interplay among them; Lizzie and Judith feel like real people while Autumn isn’t fleshed out.
Mood and Setting
Witches of Lychford could be a bit creepy or full of fake magic-y stuff. It’s not. The mood is somber. We know the situation is dire and we know Judith has spent the last 70 years alienating everyone so she has no allies and no one will listen and take her warnings seriously. Cornell shows us the town’s spooky side only once, when the three walk through the surrounding forest and Judith points out the boundary lines.
The political wrangling and outright bribery feel all too real. We can feel exactly how uncomfortable the seats are in the town hall and feel the tension as friends and family fall into opposing camps. That part is good. The scenes in Autumn’s shop do not feel quite right. Autumn is much the weakest character and her shop the weakest setting.
Witches of Lychford is short, only 144 pages in print form. Cornell tells his story and ends when the incident ends. He leaves tantalizing clues that Judith, Lizzie and Autumn are not done with each other or with their duties to maintain the borders of Lychford.
Per Amazon Witches of Lychford is the first book in a 3-book series. All three books are short and fast reads, about 1 to 1 1/2 hour each. I would like to see Cornell publish them as a single book. I was able to get the second book from our Michigan wide Melcat library system.
Amazon links are ads that generate commissions for this blog author.