The first volume of The Queen’s Favorite Witch turned out to be an unexpected surprise, combining historical fact with an empowering tale of believing in yourself, and ending with a shocking twist. I’m genuinely impressed with how Benjamin Dickson and Rachael Smith have continued this series with a book that, while not as big on plot twists as the first — and in fairness there are still a lot of twists here! — is certainly as fresh, smart and delightful.
Which are all words that could also be used to describe our heroine Daisy, the court-witch-in-training in the retinue of Queen Elizabeth I. Under the supervision of court magician John Dee and his assistant Valentyne, she does her best to learn the skills she’ll need not only to serve her monarch but to help her survive in desperate circumstances. If only Lord Globbard would stop filling up all her free time by insisting she exorcise the East Wing of Richmond Palace to his satisfaction! She’s pretty sure the wing isn’t actually haunted, even if she has started having weird dreams of a ghost asking her to help find the person who murdered him.
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth herself is fending off her advisors’ insistence that she marry and provide an heir. The queen well knows that marrying will subjugate her to her king, who could very easily sideline her despite the excellent job she’s done running the country to date. But she finally concedes that there’s no harm in arranging for King Phillip of Spain to come visit, as a friendly gesture between nations whose relationship perhaps isn’t at its best.
King Phillip’s arrival is a matter of great joy for many of the queen’s subjects, but Daisy is shocked to see him. It’s his face she’s been seeing in her dreams, but he’s very much alive and well. Or is he?! With the help of John Dee, Valentyne, her rat familiar Nathaniel and a new friend, she’ll take on an adversary beyond her wildest dreams.
This is such an absorbing book, with my absolute favorite scene being when John Dee was teaching Daisy how to take credit for her accomplishments instead of deflecting compliments. Knowing your worth is all well and good, but one should also know when to accept the praise of others, and when to acknowledge the importance of one’s own contributions. Don’t hide your light under a bushel and all that. I was also a little surprised that King Phillip didn’t give Daisy a tip or gift or anything material as a token of appreciation. That, however, was the only implausible thing I found about this enthralling tale of witchcraft and magic.
I very much enjoyed Rachael Smith’s illustrative work here, especially in the panels that depicted both magical travel and trickery. It felt, too, like she was growing more comfortable with her art as the book progressed. Her work is developing strong John Allison vibes, and I adore John Allison.
This is a terrific alternate history graphic novel series for children of all ages. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next installment!
The Queen’s Favourite Witch #2: The Lost King by Benjamin Dickson & Rachael Smith was published August 22 2023 by Papercutz and is available from all good booksellers, including