Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell fantasy book reviewsWitches of Lychford by Paul Cornell

Witches of Lychford is a novella that was published by Tor.com last year. You can find a fairly long excerpt at the Tor.com website, but you’d need to purchase the Kindle version ($2.99) or paperback to read the entire story. I acquired the audio version at Audible during a special sale. It’s 3.25 hours long and beautifully read by Marisa Calin who has just the right voices and accents for a story set in a quaint English village.

Paul Cornell’s story is about three women who live in this village. Judith Mawson is a crotchety old woman who seems to consider herself the town’s guardian from evil supernatural forces. Lizzie Blackmore, the town’s vicar, is trying to overcome a tragic event from her past. Autumn Blunstone was once Lizzie’s friend, but now she runs a magic shop.

When a big supermarket wants to open a store in Lychford, the townspeople are divided. Some residents welcome the jobs, while others feel the store will ruin the charming idyllic atmosphere of the village. But Judith realizes that there’s a more important concern. She worries that the construction will tamper with the border that keeps evil, in the form of the fae, from entering their world. To protect Lychford, she needs to ally with Lizzie and Autumn (who also believe in supernatural powers) and keep the supermarket out of their town.

The village of Lychford is appealing, as are Cornell’s characters, and I love the idea of an old-fashioned town that lives on a supernatural border. But I couldn’t quite shake the sense — and this might totally be me — that Cornell’s witches are an awful lot like Terry Pratchett’s. Judith Mawson, for sure, will remind you of Granny Weatherwax. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Judith Mawson was seventy-one years old, and she knew what people said about her: that she was bitter about nothing in particular, angry all the time, that the old cow only ever listened when she wanted to. She didn’t give a damn. She had a list of what she didn’t like, and almost everything — and everybody — in Lychford was on it. She didn’t like the dark, which was why she bit the bullet on her energy bills and kept the upstairs lights on at home all night. Well, that was one of the reasons…. That was the way in all the small towns these days. Judith hated nostalgia. It was just the waiting room for death.

Once I had Terry Pratchett in my head, it was hard not to compare Cornell’s three “witches” to Pratchett’s, or Cornell’s townsfolk to Pratchett’s, or Cornell’s sense of humor to Pratchett’s, or… well, you get the idea. While Cornell’s story was somewhat entertaining, it pales compared to Pratchett. I don’t know if that’s a fair comparison, but that was my experience nonetheless.

Witches of Lychford comes to a satisfactory close, but to me it also feels like a beginning and I’m expecting to see more stories about Judith, Lizzie, and Autumn in the future. If so, I am willing to give them a try.

Published September 8, 2015. Traveler, Cleric, Witch. 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…


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.