by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #2Kindle Edition, 144 pg.
Read: November 2 – 3, 2016
It’s been a few months since Reverend Lizzie Blackmore, Judith (the elderly witch), and Autumn (now her apprentice and her employer) fought off the supernaturally corrupt megastore (and probably mundanely corrupt, too, come to think of it) and life has moved on in a relatively normal way. The three have forged some sort of alliance — easy for Autumn and Lizzie, already close, but learning new things about each other; not so easy for Judith to be accepted and to accept them, I don’t think. Autumn’s learning from Judith, while getting some help in her shop (which seems like a small town version of Atticus O’Sullivan’s and Alex Verus’ shops combined). Judith’s got something to do, a way to pass on her knowledge, and Lizzie is super-busy with pre-Christmas activities in the church.
But given everything we learned about Lychford, it’s not terribly surprising that things won’t stay that way, it’s just a question of what kind of other-worldly strangeness will come calling first.
In this case, it’s a ghost — or ghost-like apparition — that came to Lizzie at church. A small child looking frightened and worse for wear, with a simple request of: “No hurting.” Now, our trio can’t all agree on what the apparition is, but they can all get behind the idea of “No hurting.” They just have to figure out if that’s something they can stop — and then they’ll worry about the how. Neither piece of that plan works the way that it’s supposed to, but it seems these three are pretty good at improvising. Autumn, in particular, seems particularly adept at that.
I appreciated the fact that each of these women make one significant mistake (and probably some smaller ones) — two that come from inexperience, one that proves that experience doesn’t equal infallibility. They’re all believable, they do more than just advance the plot, they are honest with the characters and situation. Too often in novels you’re left wondering why a protagonist would be so stupid as to do X — when really it comes down to they have to do X or the really cool Y thing can’t happen at the end. That doesn’t happen here — sure, the attentive reader might be able to see the blunder coming around the corner, but there’s no reason to think that our protagonists should until it’s too late. Because while these three are fictional characters, Cornell imbues them with a genuineness, a substantial-ness that’s fitting for a real person (sadly, not always present with them, however).
Man, I had to use DuckDuckGo a lot to get all the cultural details in these pages — I know next to nothing about Anglican Christmas festivities, and less about British Christmas Pop Music. I’m not sure how much I’ll benefit long-term from this research, but it was interesting. I might have been better off not knowing anything about Greg Lake and his song, though.
If there was such a thing as magic, it wouldn’t look like anything from Harry Potter, Harry Dresden or some other fantasy series starring a Harry. It’d look like this, I wager. Quiet; shadowy; right out in the open, yet somehow unseen. All substance, no flash. Oh, yeah, and creepy — can’t forget creepy and inexplicable. Which is pretty much everything that happened in this book — up to and including most of the things the trio does to prevent things from getting really out of hand. It’s hard to talk about realism in a fantasy novel, but Cornell’s one of those that make you do that.
The Witches of Lychford was thoroughly entertaining and did a great job of establishing this world. This novella took full advantage of that to tell a more compelling story. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to read Witches first, but it’d help a lot. “I Believe in Father Christmas,” notwithstanding, I thought The Lost Child of Lychford lived up to its predecessor and left me eager to return to this little village.