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Witches of Lychford

Witches of Lychford - Paul Cornell Tor has published a lot of fiction for free on its website. I'm not much one for reading long-form fiction on my laptop, though, even as I make a transition to reading some things electronically (if I can buy the book for $150, or an e-book for $2.99, it doesn't take a doctorate to figure out which is preferable), so I haven't partaken of those freebies. I will, however, purchase an e-book to read on my phone when I have a spare moment. Witches of Lychford is one among a handful of novellas that Tor is publishing both as e-books and in print. This is the first in that series that I've read.

I expected to like this a lot, because as much as I've outgrown horror as a genre, I still dig a good, spooky story. The story winds up being less horror and more rural fantasy (sort of an antidote to urban fantasy), even though there's a lingering threat to the entire world's existence within its pages. Had that been the only thing to disappoint me, I might have liked the story more, but it also had some weird moments that didn't make sense to me.

The story is about three women -- an old woman who believes in magic and lines of power and dimensional protection via the layout of a village, a younger woman who is a reverend but is questioning her faith, and another younger woman who is into New Age philosophies and treatments -- who work together to eliminate a threat not just to their village, but also to the entire world. The women are the titular witches, though only one of them could be classified as such at the start of the story (or even the end, now that I think about it). The threat they fight is ostensibly a major supermarket chain that wants to move into the town and disrupt their lifestyles, but since we're talking witches here, there's more to the chain than meets the eye.

I had trouble getting into the story, partly due to the lack of characterization here. Judith, the older woman, is probably the best drawn of the three witches, but even then, the cantankerous old woman who still believes in fairies has become enough of a stereotype to not be original. Lizzie and Autumn , the reverend and New Ager, respectively, are drawn well enough to distinguish them, but not enough to make them feel real. Even Lizzie's struggle with her faith is used mostly as an afterthought instead of making it part of her character. Her obsession over her dead husband is somewhat more convincing, but not enough to make her vivid. She's more a character study than a character.

I also find the tone of the novella to be off-putting. It's supposedly about magic, which makes me expect it to be somewhat serious, but then in comes the terrible threat, and I expect it to be darker, but then here comes the slapstick comedy and sarcastic remarks that don't fit the rest of the story. Some of it could be due to the lack of characterization, but I wanted Cornell to pick one tone and stick with it. His attempts at humor, at the very least, fell flat with me, and don't feel like they belong.

For me, this is an inauspicious start to what I wanted to be an extraordinary series of stories. The rest could improve (Binti by Nnedi Okorafor is the one I hope will knock me down), but I might have should have started with another of these novellas to get started. I see that Witches of Lychford gets a lot of praise, but it didn't do much of anything for me.