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Her Majesty’s Royal Coven was established by Queen Elizabeth I to protect her. Now, centuries later, Helena is the High Priestess, leader of the coven. Her friends are: Niamh, a vet who uses her powers to heal animals, Elle, a housewife leading a secret life as a witch, and Leona, who left to create her own intersectional coven. After Helena discovers a young warlock with extraordinary powers they’ve never seen before, she brings him to be trained and examined by Niamh. However, the warlock holds a lot of secrets which threaten to turn the coven upside down.
As soon as I saw this title I knew I needed to read this book, but I went into the story without knowing what it was about. It was a fantastic witchy story that we need right now.
This story explores gender and gender stereotypes. This witch world was divided into female witches and male warlocks with nothing in between. However, when a transgender character entered the novel, it threw some of them off. There was a lot of transphobia which was disturbing to read, but that’s the point. The real world and fictional fantasy worlds have not been nice to transgender people, especially in recent years. This intersectional look at witches was such an important and powerful read.
The final few chapters of this book were completely shocking and unpredictable. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book.
Thank you Penguin Books for sending me a copy of this book.
I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition of ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Coven’ by Juno Dawson, though had its ebook for reference as well. The audiobook is narrated by Irish actor, Nicola Coughlan.
I have been excited for months about this novel with its premise of a royal sanctioned coven. However, it proved different to what I was expecting, which is a lesson in itself. My response was mixed. In some respects the writing felt very YA or Chicklit. I enjoyed this playfulness at times but other times it just didn’t work for me.
‘Her Majesty’s Royal Coven’ is the first in a series centred around a secret government agency tasked to use magic to protect Britain from various supernatural threats. The original coven was created by Queen Anne Boleyn and has continued down through the centuries to the present day.
When they were young, five friends took the Oath and entered the HMRC. Twenty five years pass in the turning of a page. The eldest, Helena, has risen to be the organisation’s High Priestess. Leonie left the coven to found Disporia, an inclusive and intersectional coven. Elle left the magical world completely and is a housewife, though her daughter, Holly, is showing signs of magical powers so Mum might have to come out of the broom closet. Niamh is semi-retired and using her magical gifts as a country veterinarian. The fifth of the young witches, Ciara, Niamh’s twin, has been in a hospital for some years in a coma like state. Intriguing!
All is well until a Minority Report style prophecy about a ‘sullied child’ who will summon the Leviathan and the end of witchkind and men resurfaces. A young warlock (the term Juno uses for male witches) has been captured after displaying remarkable powers. Helena begs Niamh to return to the HMRC to help ascertain whether this young warlock is dangerous …. Niamh does and makes a connection with Theo, the ‘boychild’. So, Theo is entrusted to her care.
However, when Theo confides to Holly that she is not a boy but trans and Holly shares this with her Mum who shares it with… (you get the idea), it is panic time - well at least for Helena. She is seriously triggered, ‘end of the world as we know it’ style. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers but yeah. Still, the majority of characters are supportive of Theo, who certainly seems innocent enough even if her powers are in need of training.
In parts this novel was quite good though I did have some issues. I am not a fan of magic and witchcraft in fiction that involves teleportation and these kind of physical feats and pyrotechnics. It’s okay in fluffy witchy fantasies but I had expected this to be more grounded in historical witchcraft and magic.
Also, while I appreciated that Dawson wanted to address issues associated with identity, it felt as though this quickly dominated the plot. It just felt far too political for my taste. Also, Helena morphs into such a cartoon baddie: sent bonkers by the idea of a young transwoman being admitted to ‘her’ coven. It seemed to be a wasted opportunity to demonstrate that people can get over their limited world-views.
Also, Juno Dawson has created a magical world that is very polarised by gender. In the real world covens are made up of both women and men, so the idea of a witch getting the vapours over seeing male bits was just bizarre. How much Dawson was informed by the occult and witchcraft community was unclear to me. There have been ‘women only’ covens arising from the feminist movement and these may be closer to her vision for HMRC.
I did enjoy the use of pop culture throughout the novel and fun dialogue between the characters.
With respect to the audiobook, full marks to Nicola Coughlan. I have adored her work in Derry Girls and Bridgerton. (Team Penelope!) She was a splendid narrator, handling a variety of accents with ease and her timing was excellent. Please may she narrate the series!
Overall, while I found ‘Her Majesty’s Royal Coven’ heavy-handed on gender identity politics (and don’t get me started on the ending!) it will be interesting to see how the plot unfolds and characters develop in the next book.
In terms of rating, the novel on its own was an ‘it’s okay’ 3 stars for me; yet Nicola Coughlan’s narration was so good that my rating is higher for the audiobook and so 4 stars.
A cracking urban fantasy novel that reimagines witchcraft for the modern age and deals with contemporary issues of gender, race and sexuality against the backdrop of wars, demonic possession and the Spice Girls. This is funny, scary, brilliant writing and what an ending. The sequel cannot come soon enough.
Absolutely could not put this down, it's so soothing and yet exhilarating. You never quite know where you're going to end up in this adventure but each step feels so familiar, so right and so healing against the hate we are exposed to in daily life.
I truly enjoyed reading this and struggled to put it down! Twists and turns through a hidden world of magic. This is my first of Juno's books to have read and for sure won't be the last! Recommend to anyone who likes magic