Timy reviews Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, the first book in Juno Dawson‘s Contemporary Fantasy series, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven.
|Her Majesty’s Royal Coven #1
|Date of Publishing:
|May 31, 2022
|death, transphobia, blood
Possible The Sound of Madness Reading Challenge prompts:
- Free Your Mind
- I’m Still Here
- Mindenütt jó (Everywhre is Good)
- Have a Little Faith
- Family Portrait
- I’ll Be There
- Daughters of Darkness
A Discovery of Witches meets The Craft in this the first installment of this epic fantasy trilogy about a group of childhood friends who are also witches.
If you look hard enough at old photographs, we’re there in the background: healers in the trenches; Suffragettes; Bletchley Park oracles; land girls and resistance fighters. Why is it we help in times of crisis? We have a gift. We are stronger than Mundanes, plain and simple.
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.
Juno Dawson explores gender and the corrupting nature of power in a delightful and provocative story of magic and matriarchy, friendship and feminism. Dealing with all the aspects of contemporary womanhood, as well as being phenomenally powerful witches, Niamh, Helena, Leonie and Elle may have grown apart but they will always be bound by the sisterhood of the coven.
Bri, it turned out, sensed the oracles up at HMRC in Manchester getting their knickers in a twist. That was nothing new. That was why Leonie liked working with a lone oracle here in London. The girls at HMRC, they riled each other up, battery hens clucking at nothing. There was a prophecy every other week. Leonie was inclined to think that yes – the world is blatantly fucked – you don’t need twenty oracles to tell you that, Sugar Tits.
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is one of those books that has had my interest since their release but I just wasn’t quite sure if I would like it or not so bided my time. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and when I surprised myself with some physical books (this happens maybe once a year), Her Majesty’s Royal Coven was among them. Since I already have book 2 waiting on my Kindle and I got a super cute bookmark over the summer, it seemed like a good time to pick this book up and attempt to catch up with myself.
I went into Her Majesty’s Royal Coven more or less blindly. I didn’t read reviews, I only read a short sample on Amazon, and the blurb at one point. Not that I remembered it much by the time I picked it up, but anyway. The point is, I didn’t have much of an idea of what to expect. Which helps not to be disappointed. Even as I’m writing this review, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I didn’t love it, but didn’t exactly hate it either. So I guess this will be one of those instances where I figure out what’s up as I’m going.
Note: I’m going to use the full title when I’m talking about the book in general, and will use the abbreviation HMRC if I’m talking about the coven itself within the book.
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is set in the present-day UK. Since I like contemporary settings, this worked out fine for me. We drop into HMRC’s life a few years after an internal civil war, as they clear up the last remnants. Namely, a warlock, who was a close associate of the guy who started the whole thing. There are talks about the said war throughout the book, and we get some glimpses, but it kind of remains a tool to give motivation to some characters and explain some of their choices and feelings. It felt somehow disconnected from the story. I’m not sure I can explain it well. We see traces of how it affected the characters which give their character an extra layer of depth, but at the same time, it only pops up when it’s super convenient. And I’m pretty sure there could be a lot more to unpack regarding that even than we’ve got. Then again, there are at least one sequel to read, so who knows what will happen? I definitely would have liked to learn more about the coven itself and the history of the witches in any case.
And since I mentioned the characters, let’s talk about them a bit. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven has four POV characters – Helena, Niamh, Elle, and Leonie. They’ve been friends from their childhood and were initiated as witches together. Even if they have their differences, they stick together in good and bad. Out of the four, Helena and Niamh are the focus the most. Helena is the leader of HMRC, the biggest and most influential coven in the UK. Elle and Niamh remained and/or retired to their hometown Hebden Bridge, where Elle has her own family and works as a nurse, while Niamh works as a vet. Leonie the only POC in their circle has her own coven to take care of in London. She is determined to give a voice to marginalized people. She is pretty vocal about her political views along with her girlfriend, who is a lawyer and a witch.
Now, one of my biggest issues with this book was that I didn’t like most of the characters. Except for Niamh and Theo, although Theo didn’t get much of a personality beyond one particular thing I don’t want to spoil. Niamh is nice, caring, has no agenda, and she is the only one who sees through things. Good thing we had a lot of her POV or I’m not sure if I would’ve finished Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. Helena at one point becomes kind of unrealistic, and a full-fledged bitch. I understand the story needed a villain, but… I’m not entirely sure this was the right direction. The Sullied Child was pretty much just an alibi so we could see how Helena becomes totally unhinged. Which is pretty much the plot. And while this book discusses very real and actual societal issues (regarding identity, transphobia, patriarchy, and the treatment of POC people), which need to be discussed and explored in fiction, I think it also needed a lot more meat on both the story itself and the characters.
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven has an intriguing premise and uses the contemporary setting well. It doesn’t shy away from hard topics but sometimes loses focus on what the plot should be about. The characters are relatable, if not always likable. It definitely has its ambitions, even if it feels like it’s falling short. Despite my issues, I’m willing to give book two a try as the ending left me curious where Juno Dawson will take the story from here.
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