Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson
People looking for magical worlds set in contemporary time, without supporting, say, anti-trans authors.
In a nutshell:
Witches are real, and there is a prophesy that a newly discovered teen, Theo, might bring about something very, very bad. A group of friends who were young witches together and have now followed different paths all become involved in addressing this.
Why I chose it:
I believe this was the last book I received before I ended a book subscription.
What it left me feeling:
Excited for the second in the series.
SPOILERS. CN for anti-trans words and actions, violence, war.
Spoilers because I can’t talk about most of the main points of the book without spoiling something that doesn’t happen until maybe 1/3 of the way through.
This book is set in modern times in the UK. HMRC is the initialism for Her (now His) Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, so it’s fun that the author is suggesting that HMRC also stands for Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. As an aside, I wonder if the next book will call it His Majesty’s Royal Coven? Anyway, the point is the book is set in the UK, and there are witches.
Helena, Niamh, Ciara, Elle and Leonie grew up together and discovered they were witches when they were young. Flash forward, and a great war has happened (where Ciara was on the wrong side, and is now permanently unconscious thanks to actions by her sister Niamh), involving all the witches and warlocks. In this world, witches are the more powerful – no warlock could be as powerful as a witch. And yet a teen boy Theo appears and is more powerful that pretty much any witch, and appears to be part of a prophesy that will result in a lot of very bad things. He doesn’t talk, he is scared, and Helena – who is now head of HMRC – asks her friend Niamh – who has left HMRC and works as a veterinarian – to take Theo in while they try to figure what to do.
Here’s where the spoilers come in – Niamh also takes in Elle’s daughter Holly to help train her now that she has learned she is a witch, and Theo comes out to Holly as trans. Which explains how Theo could be so powerful – she’s not a warlock, she’s a witch! Niamh and Holly are super supportive, but Helena is not. Helena is for sure a TERF, and from then on things get rough between the friend group.
Leonie is the only member of the friend group who is Black, and also the only one who is a lesbian. She left HMRC to form her own coven for witches who are Black and women of color so they have a place to be safe from the racism of white women. I think that part is well done and really interesting to read, but I appreciate some reviews I read that feel like Leonie is tasked with taking on too much representation (why are all the other witches in the friend group straight and white?), and her storyline sometimes feels a bit shoehorned in. That said, I think Leonie was my favorite character after Niamh, and part of that is probably because we spend much more time with Niamh.
The author of the book is a trans woman herself, and I’d imagine writing this book was a bit cathartic for her, given how shitty so many alleged feminist white women are to trans women in the UK right now. The reason the book for me is only three stars is that the writing is a bit … underdeveloped? Like, I wasn’t sure for awhile if I was reading a YA book. The chapters are all very short, and are from different character perspectives, which is a device I quite like, but needed a bit more refinement I think. That said, the ending was a full on gut punch, and I’m super looking forward to the sequel, which comes out this summer.
Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it: