The Witches of World War II by Paul Cornell, Valeria Burzo & Jordie Bellaire

Quite the trip to be reading my second book in a row with a prominent character who shares my unusual name!

The Doreen in question here is Doreen Valiente, who at the time of the events depicted in this graphic novel was still going by her maiden name, Doreen Dominy. Considered the Mother of Modern Witchcraft, she was highly influential in the development of English Wicca in the Gardnerian tradition. In fact, she and Gerald Gardner, founder of that tradition, are both featured in this speculative history title that depicts a fascinating “what if” story of the efforts of British witches to defeat Hitler in World War II.

It begins with nineteen year-old Doreen’s boss at Bletchley Park, where she works as a translator, asking her to take on an unusual brief. It’s become well known that Hitler is into occultism, and Bletchley would like to take advantage of this. Knowing that Doreen has significant contacts in the occult world due to her interest in folklore, her boss tasks her with coming up with a plan to recruit magicians to bamboozle the Fuhrer.

To this end, Doreen’s boss points her in the direction of “the most evil man in the world”, as Aleister Crowley is more than happy to dub himself. The world’s most famous practitioner of magic is also a British intelligence asset, making himself out to be a Nazi sympathizer in order to collect valuable information for his government. In his usual maladjusted way, he helps Doreen recruit her team and come up with an audacious plan to gain the trust of one of Hitler’s most trusted lieutenants. Their aim is to bring the war criminal to justice while striking a significant blow against Nazi plans.

This “secret history” is a fun romp through the real 20th-century history of English witchcraft, as imagined by Paul Cornell. The young Doreen is still a skeptic, fascinated by folklore but quick to point out that magic doesn’t actually work in the real world. She and each of the other four witches she’s gathered have varying degrees of belief, both in the power of the supernatural and in the power of a good con. Seeing them turn their abilities to defeating Hitler is a witty good time. I especially enjoyed the addition of Rollo Ahmed to the team: his involvement is the least likely of the events depicted here to have actually happened, but really allows the reader to see the breadth of racism that permeates right-wing beliefs. Mr Cornell does an excellent job in his afterword of putting his main characters in their correct historical context, while also hinting at the plausibility of the events he posits in this book.

Valeria Burzo’s illustrations bring to mind the work done on the 1990s’ Sandman Mystery Theatre, especially by Guy Davis, tho my recollections may be significantly colored by the similar settings and themes of both properties. The deliberately old-fashioned art is perfectly suited to the story, as are Jordie Bellaire’s deceptively simple colors.

This is a worthy nominee for this year’s Best Hugo for Graphic Story. At the moment, I’d rate it between Bea Wolf and Saga Vol 11. Looking forward to getting through the rest of the nominees soon!

The Witches of World War II by Paul Cornell, Valeria Burzo & Jordie Bellaire was published April 26 2023 by TKO Studios and is available from TKO Presents.

Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.