I saw the title and cover and immediately requested this one. It seemed like such a very cool premise and with that pink, I was sure I was getting a reasonably light book to listen to. So I was delighted to be approved – however, this one wasn’t what I was expecting…
BLURB: 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.
REVIEW: Looking at the shocking pink cover of the audiobook, I’d assumed that I was getting a reasonably light-hearted exploration of witchcraft and what it means to be a woman in the contemporary world. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, nested within a cracking story that had me listening far later than I should, is a searing and comprehensive examination of female loyalties and expectations within our modern society. Just because the four young women are imbued with powerful magic, they aren’t insulated from the pressures the rest of us wrestle with on a daily basis. Issues such as dealing with chauvinist and abusive behaviour, racism, juggling work with motherhood, the push/pull of whether to settle down to have a family or prioritise a chosen career are all very recognisable problems also experienced by us non-magical Mundanes. In addition to dealing with these ongoing life decisions – our four protagonists are also still recovering from a savage war within the magical community between those who believed the magically gifted should be ruling the world and those who felt the status quo should prevail. Two of our heroines lost partners in the conflict, while Niamh’s twin sister was also on the opposing side, so the cost was high.
When a young, traumatised warlock is discovered after a destructive fire, Helena and Niamh initially agree on a course of action. However, as events unfold, the former allies suddenly find themselves on opposing sides of an issue that is also ripping apart Feminists – that of transgenderism. It was brilliant to see this difficult, emotive topic so effectively covered within a gripping tale, where both sides of the argument were so well covered.
I’m conscious that I’ve given the impression that this is a worthy story, full of pertinent issues that affect modern women within Western society. But what I’ve perhaps omitted to tell you is that all this goes on within a wonderful tale full of drama and some fabulous action scenes, shot through with wry humour that occasionally had me laughing aloud. And there was one particular scene that had me close to tears. The book also finishes on a doozy of a plot twist that has me desperate to read the sequel RIGHT NOW – because I’ve got to know my all-time favourite character is alright. In short, this is a fabulous tale that gives us four nuanced, believable characters facing familiar and contemporary problems with an extra, complicating twist of magic that makes the story leap off the page. I can’t wait to get hold of the next book. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.