Witches of Lychford (Lychford, #1) by Paul Cornell

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: May 29 to June 7, 2017

Quaint and very pleasant with a touch of autumn chill, like a brisk stroll through the cemetery at sunset when it’s just starting to drizzle. Not exactly what I expected from books with the urban fantasy label, but this was a nice surprise.

If you like charming small-town stories with a cast of oddball, neighborly characters and more magic than magical realism, give this a try.

But by “neighborly,” I don’t mean friendly, although I’m aware that’s how most people will interpret it. What I mean is they’re more like my neighbors and others I grew up with–somewhat hostile and suspicious of people they don’t know, very straightforward, aren’t really aware of personal boundaries or overstepping them, but caring and hilarious once you get to know ’em.

The writing is contemporary fiction loaded with trivial everyday life things–gossip, relationships, falling outs, homecomings, etc etc–but along the side, there’s a heavy dose of magic and other-worldliness for those who could see it and command it.

The town itself is near the border that separates our world from the underworld, so the people here are used to strange things happening without much explanation. That’s just part of the life, along with the gossips and falling outs.

Of course the big bad that threatens most small towns is a corporate entity. Here, it’s a superstore that wants to build a franchise right on the border, which would destroy it and let all the evil into our world. So the good townsfolk must fend off this superstore to save their town. And a lot funny moments ensue.

The humor is what you’d expect to see from British authors–dry, deadpan, and pointed. Reminds me of The Gates by John Connolly, but with adult characters and adult problems. For those unfamiliar with John Connolly, imagine Terry Pratchett’s humor, but less manic and more evenly paced and with fewer details crammed in.

Out this way there was the lonely last pub, the Castle, which now had an angry chalkboard sign up that said “drinkers welcome” to indicate its dissatisfaction with other establishments’ fads like pub quizzes, bands, food, and, presumably, conversation.

[…]

To human beings it won’t look or feel like a war, it’ll be more like… one of those modernist paintings you lot do, if it melted. Inside all your brains. Forever.

[…]

Judith hated nostalgia. It was just the waiting room for death.

[…]

Judith realised, with horror, that they were heading over to talk to her, and couldn’t find, at a quick glance, anyone else she knew well enough to get into a conversation with. There were, just occasionally, drawbacks to being a nasty old bitch.

Judith is the embodiment of gtfo-my-lawn, and she is very free with her feelings. When I grow up, I hope to be that free.

A couple of years ago, I tried London Falling by Paul Cornell, but couldn’t get into it. It was more like the traditional procedural urban fantasy that I was used to, but I just could not get into the writing. It was too… cold and staccato, too much like a police procedural, and there was nothing about it that pulled me in, not even London itself. So I gave up and didn’t look back. I almost gave up on Paul Cornell altogether, but I’m really glad I didn’t. This book is a gem. So different from that other one in almost every way. Worlds apart even. I’m not sure I believe it’s from the same author…