If the last few seasons of publishing are any indication, we’re in the midst of a 21st-century witch craze. Witchery is hot, and it’s popping up across all publishing and entertainment categories: middle-grade graphic novels, witchy zines, teen TV series, and sorcerous fiction for all ages. Long reclaimed as feminist icons, the witches of 2020 have also found a special place in queer and trans narratives, and LGBTQ2S+ YA witch fiction is quickly becoming a more crowded field than one might imagine, with recent releases like Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer and Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu.
In a rich though overwrought beginning to a planned series, Adan Jerreat-Poole explores the queer potential of witches to evoke themes of difference, chosen families, and becoming one’s true self in worlds both magical and mundane.
The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass introduces us to Eli, a young and highly skilled magical assassin, who is regularly dispatched on missions to the world of coffee-drinking, motorcycle-riding humans by a powerful cabal known as the Coven. Raised by the enigmatic (and possibly adversarial) witch Circinae, Eli is not exactly a human or a witch (or is she both?), which might explain her success moving between these worlds. But when a series of mishaps on her latest assignment make returning to the Coven a dangerous proposition, Eli teams up with a mysterious coalition of witches, ghosts, and humans – including an Uber driver with a penchant for cowboy erotica and a sexy non-binary biker – for a mission that could change the relationship between human and witch realms for good.
This debut novel is successful in some aspects. Jerreat-Poole’s fantasy world is chaotic but voluminous, and readers who love the stuff of magic – a glowing amulet made of moon, a knife as small as a pine needle, a human whose skin has turned to stone – will find plenty to spark the imagination. It is also quite refreshing to read a novel with a cast that does not feature any straight male characters in major roles, absolutely centring queer identities.
Yet, despite Jerreat-Poole’s superficially appealing aesthetic and much-appreciated gender landscape, the book does not come together on other levels. Multiple quests and settings emerge and disappear without clarity or explanation, more confusing than tantalizing. The prose is overstuffed with facile figurative language and prone to hokey cadences that detract from many of the scenes. And though the cast is legitimately intriguing, the characters seem strangely underdeveloped, remaining more sketches than full portraits, despite the fact that the writing is generally overworked.
LGBTQ2S+ YA witch fiction has so much potential, not just to nourish queer imaginations but also in the marketplace. While Jerreat-Poole has created a novel that gestures toward the power and value of these stories, their debut fails to enchant.