Readers will enter the vivid world of Elizabethan England in The Queen’s Favorite Witch, a story of magic and intrigue. Daisy is an ambitious young witch living near London with her mother. Her poverty and her mother’s fear for her safety are barriers to her becoming the Queen’s Witch, the most coveted role in the country for a magical practitioner. Daisy’s mother wants her to stay home and help sell their healing potions. Against these wishes, she travels to London. Through pluck and bravery Daisy gains a position competing against more wealthy and worldly witches to earn this position.
At court, Daisy must compete against rival witches who fit a somewhat tired “mean girls” mold. Helping her with these challenges are her rat familiar Nathaniel, chambermaid Edith, Valentyne the friendly con man, and John Dee, the real-life astrologer to Elizabeth I. Various skin tones are represented in the cast of characters.
The action of the story culminates in an attack from an infamous deceased monarch, who decides that death is no barrier to rule. Through all her trials, Daisy shows creativity, spirit, and a willingness to struggle through the aspects of herself that hold her back from success.
The Queen’s Witch offers a mixed bag of appeals. On one hand is the charm and wit of Daisy’s adventures. Daisy is set the task of enchanting a group of spiders, which usually resist enchantment. Instead of forcing them to her will, Daisy offers them the dead insects stuck in her hair, and in return they weave a web that reads “Long live Queen Elizabeth.” The final crisis with the aforementioned deceased monarch is also full of narrative delights and satisfying humor. The volume ends with Daisy’s immediate problems solved, but the last page makes it clear that the larger story is only beginning.
On the other hand, the toxic court environment that confronts Daisy feels forced. We’re used to seeing modern sensibilities overlaid on historical settings, but these social politics feel more 1980s than 2020s. Daisy’s competitors are catty and conniving in a two-dimensional, female-coded way. We never learn more about their motivations, other than that a man’s influence is behind most of their behavior.
Daisy’s relationships with her male supporters at court are in some ways just as toxic as those with her bullies. She reflects that her friend Valentyne has greatly helped in her performance of magic, but his coaching amounts to the encouragement to “just let it flow” and “not force it.” In several instances, Daisy is lectured by her male supporters, who are fond of telling her things like, “you know the real problem” You’re trying to be something you’re not,” and “can you stop thinking of yourself for one minute?” After her rat familiar upbraids about what being a witch is “about,” she replies with “I’m sorry…I’m sorry I wasn’t better.” The repeated criticism from the males in her life don’t sound like frustrated support, but as enraged, gendered take-downs.
An additional issue with The Queen’s Favorite Witch is an episode that takes a strange and disquieting turn. One of the plots against Daisy by her rivals is to take her to a pub, over-serve her beer, and drug her so that she is too seemingly hungover the next day to perform magic. The fact that she’s 12 is never mentioned in this context. Although in every other way this is a middle grade graphic novel, this instance of unquestioned underage drinking would cause most librarians to wonder if it is appropriate for that age group.
These serious plot issues aside, The Queen’s Favorite Witch is a charming and fun read. The pacing of frames brings the story forward with expertise, pausing to emphasize an important moment, or moving quickly to pull the reader through an exciting passage. The visual humor is a delight, as when Daisy’s mother catches her coming home late by magically lighting a candle instead of dramatically flipping a light switch.
The Queen’s Favorite Witch will appeal to young fans of history and fantasy. Lovers of Dylan Maconis’ Queen Of the Sea are an obvious target audience, but fans of friendship comedies like Shannon Hale’s Real Friends will also find themes to connect with. Because of its appeal and forthcoming volumes, The Queen’s Favorite Witch: the Wheel Of Fortune is recommended for medium to large graphic novel collections.
The Queen’s Favorite Witch, Book 1: The Wheel of Fortune
By Benjamin Dickson
Art by Rachael Smith
Publisher Age Rating: 7-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)