The Witches of Lychford

      Publisher: Tor 

      RRP: £9.99

      Author: Paul Cornell 

      Published:  2015-09-08




The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment. Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth - that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination. But if she is to have her voice heard, she's going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies...


A taut and engaging tale.


This novella, by Paul Cornell, is a modern fantasy set in the rural Cotswolds. It’s frequently classified as urban fantasy, although I feel it merits the coining of a new sub-genre: rural fantasy. The book sees the juxtaposition of mundane town events, such as a town divided over the plans to build a new supermarket nearby, with the unfolding knowledge that these mundane events threaten to tear the town - and reality - apart, literally as well as figuratively.

The story follows the three female protagonists: Judith, the elderly town eccentric, misanthropic and bitter; Lizzie, the new young vicar of Lychford, tending to the needs of the locals while still recovering from tragedy; and her estranged childhood friend, long-time atheist and sceptic, Autumn. These three women form an unlikely alliance to safeguard Lychford and its residents from the malevolent forces threatening the town’s borders.

It is a breath of fresh air to find a story with three compelling, well-rounded, female protagonists leading the action, and I found I didn’t really notice the lack of a male lead until I came to write this review. All three characters find their beliefs challenged by the events of the book - Autumn, ever the cynic, has to accept that magic is real and Judith must overcome the barriers she has built between herself and her fellow residents, and must battle to be taken seriously by them despite being disliked and having been seen as the town crank for many years – but for me perhaps the most interesting journey is that of Lizzie, the town’s vicar. New in role, out of her depth and nursing her own trauma, Lizzie sees her faith tested by the events that unfold throughout the book. Cornell undoubtedly uses his personal knowledge, as the husband of a minister, to shine a light on the day to day activities of the vicar, the misconceptions of the town that her job is “mostly on Sundays”, the assumption that she must be stuffy and prim and the peculiar isolation that comes from setting oneself apart as a woman of God. Lizzie’s portrayal and the testing of her faith made me empathise deeply with the responsibility she feels to the townsfolk and the loneliness that seems to come with it.

At 144 pages The Witches of Lychford is a taut and engaging tale. Having promised myself that I would read a single chapter before getting on with some chores, I found it so compelling that a scant few hours after starting I found myself closing the book, having finished the story, and feeling sad it was over all too soon. Despite that, however, the tale doesn’t suffer from its brevity; it is a complete and satisfying story, and with the publishing of The Lost Child of Lychford (and the upcoming release of the third novella in the series, The Long Day in Lychford, currently scheduled for release in October 2017), the series has a pleasingly episodic feel, like a good episode of a favoured supernatural TV show. With that in mind, I look forward to diving into the next episode with fervour and can’t wait to see how the season turns out.




Full disclosure: GeekPlanetOnline is the publisher and host of Paul Cornell's now-finished podcast, The Cornell Collective. Former GeekPlanetOnline Site Editor Dave Probert acted as that podcast's producer. The author of this review has no personal connection to Mr. Cornell.