Nicola Coughlan

REVIEW: Her Majesty’s Royal Coven by Juno Dawson

This book has trigger warnings for transphobia, homophobia, and racism, war and death of a loved one.

Narrated by Nicola Coughlan.

There’s a prophecy that the Sullied Child will bring about a demon so strong that it will cause the end of all witches, and even the end of the world. Decades on from a civil war, Helena, High Priestess of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven (HMRC), will do whatever she can to stop that from happening while her childhood friends and fellow witches have all left behind the bureaucracy of HMRC. Elle is focusing on being a wife and mother, Niamh is a country vet, and Leonie has defected to start her own more inclusive and intersectional coven. But when the child is found and the prophecy is looking closer than ever, the four friends must try and figure out the best course of action as loyalties are tested and conflicting ideals arise.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is told via the fours friend’s perspectives and it’s great to get inside each of their heads. Niamh and Helena probably have more focus and development than Elle and Leonie but it’s still an interesting look at female friendship and how some friendships can last decades while others get strained over time. Leonie is a Black, lesbian witch while the other three are all white and pretty middle class so the things she sees and how she reacts to things is often different to the others. She’s incredibly aware of the differences between them and how society treats Black women and gay women differently to whit, straight women but some of her childhood friends just see them all as women and therefore have the same problems.

There’s a lot of discussions in Her Majesty’s Royal Coven about what it is to be a woman and how transwomen fit into that. A lot of the anti-trans rhetoric that we hear nowadays is used though it’s always clear that it’s wrong. The discussions the characters have about being a woman and how that can be different for different people, women-only spaces and how trans people do (or don’t) affect cis people. I think having these discussions through a fantasy lens was interesting and worked well as you got to see pretty much every point of view (good and bad) that we see in real life but there’s also meaningful discussions and it makes some potentially big ideas more accessible.

I really enjoyed the setting of Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. It’s mostly set in the town of Hebden Bridge (a place I’ve visited a couple of times as one of my best friends lives there), but also a bit in London and Manchester. Having a witchy fantasy novel set in present-day Britain where the characters are all in their mid-thirties felt like this was truly for the British millennials like me. There’s a lot of 90s references as that’s when the girls grew up as well as references to more modern-day issues like Brexit and Covid. It was so nice to read a fantasy novel where the character are adults and have to juggle things like their families, relationships, and jobs while also having magic and responsibilities outside of the “normal” stuff. Plus, how witches and witchcraft is explained to have been a part of Britain (and the world) for centuries helps flesh out this modern interpretation of witches.

I borrowed the audiobook from my library and it was narrated by Nicola Coughlan (of Derry Girls and Bridgerton fame) and she was fantastic. She captures the different voices of the four women so well and makes the exposition just as compelling as when there’s a big action sequence. The final showdown is something I could easily visualise in my mind and was very cinematic. Her Majesty’s Royal Coven is the first book in an adult trilogy and I hope Nicola Coughlan narrates the other books in the series because I’d love to carry on reading these books that way.

Her Majesty’s Royal Coven has compelling characters and relationships and the different kinds of magic is great. It’s a story that’s exciting and thoughtful and packs an emotional punch too. I got really quite attached to a lot of these characters, Elle’s daughter Holly especially, and the ideas of fighting fate and prophecy were interesting too. 5/5.