Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

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Reviewed by David Harris

I’d been eagerly waiting for this book. Cornell has recently published two volumes in an urban fantasy series, The Shadow Police, set among the supernatural threats of London and I was keen to see him transfer his attention to the countryside – Lychford is, I think, supposed to be somewhere in the Cotswolds so not too far from where I live. Also, he is married to a Church of England Vicar as am I, so I wanted to see what he’d make of small town life. If we ever met I think we’d have a lot to discuss…

If stories of magic, monsters and the supernatural in a modern setting are supposed to be called ‘Urban Fantasy’, then what are we to make of this, set in an idyllic, sleepy English village? ‘Rural Fantasy’ sounds a bit Cold Comfort Farm – but in this story there might well be something nasty in the woodshed, so I’ll assert now that Cornell has launched a new genre with his clever, chilling book.

Lizzie is the new Vicar in Lychford. Recently bereaved and still mourning her husband, she has come back to Lychford where she grew up. Judith, eccentric and quarrelsome, knows a bit about the Other World you can find along certain paths in the woods.  Autumn, once so rational and ordinary, experienced something impossible and now runs a magic shop in the village.

Together, the three women will face an ancient evil – and an unstoppable modern power, the mighty supermarket chain Sovo. If Sovo has its way, it will be the end of village life – and possibly of all life. Because Lychford is a special place, and needs to be preserved. But you can’t tell the planning authority that, rather than simply threatening the local butcher and convenience store, a new development could let loose the forces of Hell. or can you?

Blending together conservation, magic, religion, and big business, Cornell has created an extremely readable adventure which is at times funny, at times rather chilling with three engaging protagonists who may not know much about what’s happening, but do know what’s right. And I have to say, as the husband of a Vicar living in a small village, his observations of clergy life (those Church Council meetings! The fundraising!) are spot on. The only qualification I’d make is that this is a short book, and given the amount of scene setting that’s needed (who is who and where they came from) inevitably the action is quite rushed, once it gets under way. It’s probably a book to read on one night – perhaps 31 October, and in front of a good open fire.

I understand there are going to be more stories set in this world. So we may hear about Judith’s dark past, about Joe and what happened to him and more about where Autumn went, and why. I hope that means there will be a full length book to follow this, with a little more or for the story to breathe?

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David blogs at Blue Book Balloon. A former physicist, he is married to a vicar and lives by a village green sometimes used to film Midsomer Murders, but has, against the odds, survived so far. David works in tax but promises he isn’t going to bring that up here.

Paul Cornell, Witches of Lychford (Tor: London, 2015). 9780765385239, 144 pp., paperback.

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