Witches are real, and there could be one sitting right beside you as you’re reading this on your morning commute. In the UK, they’re governed by Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, a sisterhood headed by the high priestess. Witches are innately more powerful than warlocks, who have their own secret societies known as cabals. But what happens when a magic user is trans?
Only slight, necessary spoilers to discuss the main theme.
In many ways, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven takes a wrecking ball to Hogwarts. There are no magic schools or owl deliveries in this world, but you might find witches communing in the forest or messaging each other on smartphones. The novel’s main antagonist, a TERF, can be seen as a stand-in for the author of the bestselling series, zealously barring Theo, a young trans girl, from joining her coven. Add a world-ending prophecy to the mix, and she comes to believe the child must be stopped at all costs.
Lest you think HMRC a dark and gritty tale, Juno Dawson’s novel is full of charm and cozy cottages in the country. The main characters are all witches in their thirties whose daily lives are beautifully grounded and different from each other, as one would expect from a veterinarian, a housewife, an activist, and the coven’s high priestess. A couple of them even have teenage daughters who become involved in the story.
The fear that trans people represent is present both literally and metaphorically in the tale. In the eyes of the high priestess, young Theo is a threat to what being a witch actually signifies. And then, there’s the prophecy, which leads her to believe Theo will destroy the world. When institutions and traditions we hold dear are shaken close to the point of shattering, that’s how it feels. If they crumble, the world will descend into chaos and society as we know it will end.
But Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is a story of affirmation. Theo is a girl, and she has strong allies willing to stand for her rights and for her place, both in the coven and in the world. It is a fun, hopeful and inspirational tale, a fantasy we can all hope to live in.