Book Reviews

Review: Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is a book I’ve been seeing all over the place. This multiple POV has intrigue, mystery, and magic all wrapped up in one. But overall I had some mixed feelings about certain elements which you’ll have to keep reading this book review to hear my full thoughts on.

Summary

At the dawn of their adolescence, on the eve of the summer solstice, four young girls–Helena, Leonie, Niamh and Elle–took the oath to join Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, established by Queen Elizabeth I as a covert government department. Now, decades later, the witch community is still reeling from a civil war and Helena is now the reigning High Priestess of the organization. Yet Helena is the only one of her friend group still enmeshed in the stale bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is trying to pretend she’s a normal housewife, and Niamh has become a country vet, using her powers to heal sick animals. In what Helena perceives as the deepest betrayal, Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven, Diaspora. And now Helena has a bigger problem. A young warlock of extraordinary capabilities has been captured by authorities and seems to threaten the very existence of HMRC. With conflicting beliefs over the best course of action, the four friends must decide where their loyalties lie: with preserving tradition, or doing what is right.

Review

(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

TW: transphobia, misgendering, deadnaming, sexism, homophobia

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is a story about systems and freedom. About ingrained systems that are held up, institutions, over time and which – in some ways – resist change. This idea that they are exclusionary, not listening or acknowledging voices, like marginalized ones. It’s about these systems of power and also to celebrate voices and forces of change. Of people who are able to see when to speak out, and those who have made spaces of their own. It’s a multiple POV story surrounding this core of friends who have drifted apart.

I enjoyed watching the character’s lives unfold, specifically as they began to intersect more and it was clear they were keeping things from each other. But I do feel like some perspectives took more of the center stage. Maybe that’s because of the ending and how it’s set up for this series, but I felt like some of my favorite characters didn’t get as much time as I would have liked. Even more than that, one of the characters is incredibly transphobic.

Multiple POVS and transphobia

I am not trans and so I cannot speak to these comments, but I can say that it was incredibly difficult to read. I realize that these sentiments are those shared by some people within our society – this TERF sentiment that pervades certain spaces – but it just felt like in a story which is supposed to feature a trans minor at the heart of it, that it was difficult to read. The story of her search for recognition and specifically as a girl is so central to the plot of the story and so this POV felt even more hostile.

Which it is meant to be. And her transphobic comments are challenged by other characters in the book. I think there’s both a place for fantasy worlds which are queer normative and friendly and also ones that explore the discrimination and violence against queer people. It was just very difficult emotionally to get through her POV which just meant that by the end, I was kind of just trying to get through it. If I had to guess, I would say perhaps that’s the authors intention – to also highlight the gross, violent, and hostility of transphobia – I just wanted to comment on how it impacted my reading experience.

The Story and Characters

Returning to the story in Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, I genuinely enjoyed the other POVs of Elle, Leonie, and Naimh. The ways their friendships intersect and interweave was lovely to read. And watching them embrace, and try to protect, this trans witch was certainly the highlight of their characters. There’s more at work with their stories, it’s just difficult to get a good sense of balance for it with the multiple POV. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven balances a scale of mystery. Featuring larger scale – the world might be ending – mystery with smaller scale magical disasters and questions.

Thematically, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven explores what we will do or think we are doing for the ‘greater good’. How it can mean that someone might hide, obscure, cover up, but stand back and say it’s for the ‘greater good’. To blame their power or position or ‘necessary sacrifices’. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven explores this line between someone we think we know and the beliefs they reveal. Find Her Majesty’s Royal Coven on Goodreads, Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop.org & The Book Depository.

Discussion

What is your favorite coven?


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