HER MAJESTY’S ROYAL COVEN By Juno Dawson
Harper Voyager, hb, £11.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
This is an eye-catching book – with a lurid pink spine and back, as well as a striking crest that’s been designed for Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (or HMRC as it is abbreviated) on the front and back covers, featuring what I can only assume is Gaia, above a pentagram with prancing goats either side of her. HMRC is the official government agency founded by Anne Boleyn to deal with super normal threats.
The book opens by introducing us to Niamh, Helena, Leonie, Elle and Ciara. It’s 25 years before the current day that the novel is set within. It’s the night before the summer solstice. They’re 10 years old and preparing to join their local coven and take an oath of fealty to it. Typical 10-year-olds, they bicker about who will marry which member of Boyzone and which member of the Spice Girls they all are. But they are bound by their sisterhood and their burgeoning powers. Fast forward 25 years, and Helena is the high priestess of HMRC. They have survived an immense battle against other witches and warlocks and mostly emerged unscathed. Ciara is the exception – she had turned against the others and has spent the last 10 years in a coma. Some tensions exist inside the group, but the bond of sisterhood is still (in the main) there.
Set in contemporary times, the magical world that Dawson has created exists alongside ours but is hidden from the non-magical world. It isn’t really that different from ours – there are still strong divisions between genders, but in this case, female witches are considered more powerful than their male, warlock counterparts. This status quo is relatively stable after the conflict until a strange boy is brought to their attention. One with powers unlike any they have seen before. I won’t spoil the plot twist there, but it’s a good one.
It is truly a tale of our time, populated with a diverse range of characters from all walks of life. The battle of the genders and the challenges faced by those who exist outside of these norms as they strive to be accepted by society are well depicted within the pages. One can but hope that it will help some that may not have thought too much about the issues of diversity and inclusion to ponder upon them and perhaps open their minds to the possibilities outside of what they are used to. Personally, I look forward to the next novel in the HMRC series and will keep an eye out for more of Dawson’s work. If you’re not familiar with Juno Dawson yet, the recent Dr Who Redacted series on BBC Sounds was created by her and is well worth a listen.