The Coven by Lizzie Fry
Sphere, hb, £12.05
Reviewed by Mikaela Silk
A world filled with witches but ruled by men: what could go wrong? When Chloe Su discovers a latent magical ability, strong enough to make a whole house disappear, it puts her straight onto a kill list and sends her and her father Daniel on the run from the Sentinel, the modern world’s witch hunters. At the same time, Adelita is deciding whether or not she can trust the Sentinel agent gone rogue who has just broken her out of prison and revealed her own hidden power to her. Things are set in motion very quickly until it is fight or die. If they can rally other witches to their cause, then they just might live…
I thought that the men vs women plot was quite chilling, mostly because it was made entirely believable, and the recognisable modern setting, reinforced with near-historical points of reference, gave it a close-to-home feeling. There were real historical references to the 16th-century witch hunts and the repressed housewives of bygone eras, which gave the actions in the book a believable edge, suggesting that they were simply a modern exaggeration of events that have already happened. Even the historically accurate use of the title ‘Goody’ served as a constant reminder that the values displayed in this book are not new, unknown values. Fully immersed in the narrative, I found myself both wanting to be a witch and dreading such a discovery.
The complicated hierarchical infrastructure of Fry’s world made the plot just that much more believable and also allowed me to immerse myself fully in the story. I liked how we were allowed to see different reactions to the inclusion of witches in society; from the hard but opposing stances of the Sentinel and the Gathering to the more relaxed approach in different counties and the average person who believes what they are told and isn’t really bothered until it begins to affect their own life. The male characters were the most insightful in this respect because, whilst the witches had no choice other than to fight for survival, the men were freer to form their own opinions and act on them in their own way. However, despite this solid structure, there were still plenty of plot twists and character surprises that stepped outside of the expected norms.
One of the most interesting parts of this novel is the backstory that is woven lightly throughout, which show us how the struggles grew gradually and how they were controlled and guided in a direction which best suited those in power. The backstories for individual characters fit into this by showing the losses and control on a personal level, as well as the global level, which is reinforced throughout.