The Lights Go Out in Lychford by Paul Cornell: The Stakes and Tension are High in the Penultimate Lychford Novella

The Lights Go Out in Lychford

The Lights Go Out in Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #4

Kindle Edition, 144 pg.
Tor/Forge, 2019

Read: November 19, 2019

Oh, man…I was so glad to be back in this world. Lychford, a tiny little English town that acts as the border between this world and realities beyond our understanding, is a wonderfully conceived and executed setting—just getting to spend time here again was a blast.

I’ve tried three times now to describe this, and I just can’t without letting something slip. So, what’s the publisher say?

The borders of Lychford are crumbling. Other realities threaten to seep into the otherwise quiet village, and the resident wise woman is struggling to remain wise. The local magic shop owner and the local priest are having troubles of their own.
And a mysterious stranger is on hand to offer a solution to everyone’s problems. No cost, no strings (she says).
But as everyone knows, free wishes from strangers rarely come without a price . . .

Judith’s struggle with the effects of aging on her mind—and the way that her use of magic has accelerated them—is wonderfully depicted. Of course, it’s not just Judith dealing with her fading capabilities—her apprentice, her friend and her son also go through a lot trying to help her. This might be the best part of the book.

Autumn is working herself to exhaustion—not to mention loneliness and poverty—trying to rush her preparation for taking over for Judith. She’s also driven by the grave errors of the last book that have really put Lychford in danger.

Something about this one had me on tenterhooks throughout. There’ve been threats to Lynchford and/or the trio of protagonists before, but it all seemed much more likely this time.

The conclusion was simply fantastic and heart-wrenching—with a last line that will drive you to the online bookstore of your choice to try to order the conclusion immediately.

Can you read this without having read the previous entries in the series? Yeah, I guess you could. Cornell provides enough backstory to muddle through. Should you? Nope. I don’t think you’d appreciate everything the way it should be appreciated. Should you read the previous 3 novellas? Yes, and then read this and join me in waiting for the fifth and final one next year.

4 Stars

A Long Day in Lychford by Paul Cornell

A Long Day in LychfordA Long Day in Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #3

Kindle Edition, 128 pg., 2017

Read: October 10, 2017

Lychford’s apprentice witch (not that anyone knows that), and owner of Witches, a magic shop (not that many take it seriously), Autumn has had a bad day. So bad, that a police officer has dropped by the next morning to interrupt an impending hangover with questions about it. She had a fight with her teacher and employee that left both fuming and ready to consider ending the relationships, and then she went to a bar not-really-looking for a fight, but ready for it when it showed up.

But when you’re one of three women responsible for protecting the borders between our world and the rest, and you’re pretty magic-capable, your bad days can have pretty catastrophic consequences. Without getting into the details, she messes up the borders, the protections — the magic that keeps all the things and people and whatevers out of our world that we’re not equipped to deal with (in any sense).

Meanwhile, Judith is dealing with the aftermath of the fight with Autumn in her own way. Which boils down to being crankier than usual, and then dealing with the fallout from Autumn’s error. Judith is primarily concerned with problems that the other two aren’t aware of and have little do to with magic. There were a line or two that I think were supposed to be spooky or creepy in her POV sections that really were just sad (my guess is that Cornell wrote them to work on both levels, but they really only served as the latter for me).

Lizzie got put on the backburner for the most part in this book — not that she’s absent, but she doesn’t have that much to do. Which is fine — she can’t be the center of each entry in this series, but I’d have preferred to have seen a bit more from her. I enjoyed the references to Lizzie’s Fitbit, it was nice to have just the hint of lightness in this otherwise grim story. Actually, the other thing that came close to fun in this book also came from Lizzie’s POV. She’s not the typical source for that, and it’s nice to see that she’s capable of it.

I wish these were longer — I know it’s supposed to be a series of novellas, but this one in particular makes me want for more — more development, more plot, more character interaction. I don’t think I noticed it as much in the previous installments, so maybe it’s something about this one. Still, this is a good story and time spent in Lychford is always rewarding.

In the end, this served primarily to set the stage for Witches of Lychford #4 — and maybe more. Yes, the story was interesting, and it was good to have this look at Autumn, and the whole Brexit tie-in was interesting, but this just didn’t work for me quite the way the others did. I have high hopes for the next, it’s not like I’m done with this or anything, I just wanted more.


3 Stars

The Lost Child of Lychford by Paul Cornell

The Lost Child of LychfordThe Lost Child of Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #2

Kindle Edition, 144 pg., 2016

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.


4 Stars

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Witches of LychfordWitches of Lychford

by Paul Cornell
Series: Witches of Lychford, #1

Kindle Edition, 144 pg., 2015
Read: September 8, 2015

You ever get nervous about starting a new work by an author? Sure, in retrospect, it may seem silly to doubt, but for every Jesse Stone, there’s a Sunny Randall. As much as I like his Shadow Police series, I wasn’t sure I was up for something else by Paul Cornell. Thankfully, my apprehension was silly, because whether he’s writing about London or a small town, Cornell knows what he’s doing.

The town of Lychford is on the verge of dealing with a major assault by evil forces and for reasons you should discover for yourself, that is not something that can be allowed, because if they are allowed to invade, these supernatural forces will carry the day. So they must be stopped before they can begin in earnest.

These forces are, naturally, a large supermarket chain. What else? They’re called Sovo, and I’m sure they resemble no actual chain (or that Cornell has really good lawyers). But it seems that there’s more to them than low prices and a knack for ruining the lives of small business owners.

Now, your middle class activist types might get riled up by this, but there’s only so much that their petitions and flyers can do against the supernatural (not that they realize they’re going up against powers beyond their ken). Even when the supernatural are primarily using things like empty promises, bribes, and the allure of new jobs, there’s only so much that well-off Muggles can do (to borrow a term from some other series).

It’s going to take people able to see the otherworldly aspects of the PR Campaign that Sovo is waging to win the hearts and minds of the citizenry to thwart them. Now, typically, this is where we’d get someone like Rachel Morgan, Harry Dresden, or Peter Grant to come in and kick a little supernatural butt. Instead, we get such obvious heroes as a crackpot old lady and vicar who’s on the verge of losing her faith. Thankfully, the crackpot is actually a witch of sorts, so they’ve got a fighting chance.

For something a mere 144 pages long, this is an incredibly rich and well-developed world. The magic system seems pretty thought-out and realistic (for lack of a better word). The characters (those mentioned and a couple of others) are sharply defined and could probably carry a story by themselves.

Really, really impressive work — I’d love it if the work were longer, but honestly, I’m not sure if it’d have been as effective if it had another 1-200 more pages to develop everything. I think this ensures Cornell’s place on my “grab anything you see by” list without really caring what the subject matter is.

I was about to hit “Publish” on this when I had this thought — this reads just like one of Bledsoe’s Tufa novels would if set in England. For my money, that’s a pretty high mark.


3.5 Stars