Gender Euphoria and Wrathful Witchery: The Scratch Daughters by H. A. Clarke

Posted 23rd October 2022 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 0 Comments

The Scratch Daughters (Scapegracers, #2) Genres: Fantasy, Contemporary or Urban Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Sapphic MC, bisexual Asian-American secondary character, queer Black secondary character, nonbinary secondary character, bi/pansexual tertiary character, background M/M
PoV: 1st-person, past-tense
Published on: 25th October 2022
ISBN: B08GFKNQWZ
Goodreads
five-stars

It's been a wild year for Sideways Pike. After forming a coven with the three most popular girls in school and developing a huge crush on a mysterious stranger named Madeline, Sideways' Halloween was ruined by finding out that Madeline wasn't trying to make out with her, but to steal Sideways' specter, the force that gives witches the ability to cast magic spells. From Madeline's perspective, it's not her fault: after a doomed relationship with one of the creepy near-identical Chantry Boys turned into a witch hunt, they took her specter, so, really, she's only borrowing Sideways' until she can recover her own and punish the Chantrys.

The specter-less Sideways is in a horrid, distracted mood, unable to do magic and with part of her consciousness tied to Madeline's, on the lam as she uses Sideways' specter to hunt Chantrys. The other Scapegracers are much jollier, heading into the winter holidays having set up shop as curse crafters for girls in their school who've been done wrong by guys. When Sideways—through Madeline—gets a flash of how to track down both her foes at once, she asks the Scapegracers to help entrap them, only to be told her plan is unsafe and unwise. So if she's going to find Madeline, her only ally is Mr. Scratch, the inky book demon currently inhabiting her as life support until she gets her spectre back.

Sideways is used to being an outcast loner, and is desperate to do magic again, so she's not going to let little barriers like facing an betraying crush and a family of six demented witch hunters practically alone stop her. But she and her trusty stolen bike are in for a bumpy ride...

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Highlights

~book devils have VERY WEIRD appetites
~know your history and your legacy
~every coven needs a scratchbook
~hex the haters
~bring the house…up?

:this review contains spoilers for The Scapegracers!:

This isn’t a book. It’s a snarl, a shout, a scream equal parts defiance and fury and exultation. It’s a hex hissed at every boy who wants to hurt a girl, a pitch-black choke-chain wrapped around their throats. It’s an ink-devil beneath your skin, hugging you from the inside, pouring power through your veins. It’s weaponised barbie dolls and an ouija board whipped up with stickers, mirrors tying sisters past to sisters present, haircuts lifting the scales from your eyes. It’s hunger and need and belonging, broken glass and broken angels, a bright pink knuckleduster to the heart. It’s magic queered and queerness magicked until it’s impossible to tell what the difference between them is.

(Spoiler: there is none.)

Take apart the words, the shapes of the letters on the page, and the sigil they make will show you your soul in your hand.

Bring it to your mouth and swallow it down.

*

This book. This book! This BOOK!

I stayed up until 6am devouring it and I regret absolutely nothing.

I didn’t think The Scratch Daughters could be better than Scapegracers, you know??? I didn’t think anything could be better than Scapegracers, because that book is fucking flawless. I would have bet Scratch Daughters would be equally incredible, because I can’t even begin to imagine Clarke writing anything that isn’t.

But I didn’t think it was possible for anything to be better.

What do you call something that’s better than perfect? Do I need to invent a new word again??? I think I need to invent a new word again.

clarkegelant
adjective

1. beyond perfect
2. of or like H. A. Clarke’s writing style, especially in excellence

THE SCRATCH DAUGHTERS IS CLARKEGELANT.

THAT IS ALL.

*

Do you have any idea how this review has been shredding me, because how the fuck do I talk about this book? How sharp and beautiful and aching it is, a feral rainbow with bruised knuckles, so intense the pages vibrate under your fingers, make your hair lift off your freaking head with static? It crackles like Pop Rocks and snaps like bone and roars like dragon’s breath coming for the patriarchy. It’s distilled down to liquid night and nitroglycerin and I dare you to do shots. I dare you.

(You can’t. You won’t. The Scratch Daughters is a book you devour all in one go because putting it down is impossible.)

Everything that made Scapegracers perfect is here; the decadent, revelling prose that tells you to keep up or shut up; the fierce rawness of what it is to be a teenager, especially a teenage girl; the overwhelming, overpowering rush of true friendship; the unrepentant glorying-in defiance of queer as in fuck you. And of course the cast, the unforgettable, incomparable Scapegracers themselves, Sideways-Jing-Daisy-Yates, the four-pointed compass star leading us deeper and deeper into the magic and mystery.

Teenagers spawning nuclear reactors inside their throats.

But gods, Clarke has levelled up with this one. The wait for Scratch Daughters has been so-much-more than worth it; if we’d been waiting twice as long, ten times as long, I would still be here telling you the wait was worth it.

Fuck.

It was so weird being inhabited by something that often felt really jealous of pens.

I’m not going to tell you much about the plot, because you’re going to read this for yourselves, but I can’t not talk about how Clarke conflates queerness and magic in Scratch Daughters even more explicitly than they did in Scapegracers. The parallels drawn in neon between magical legacy and queer history make me foam at the mouth, okay, I am rabid for this, for how vitally important both are to the characters and the story and the reader. Just as so much queer history was lost with a generation of queer elders killed by Reagan AIDS, the Scapegracers are walking in the footsteps of covens burned by witch hunters – and need to reach into the void of where those earlier witches should be to survive, to grow, to fully realise their potential. If Scapegracers was about our four favourite witches finding each other, Scratch Daughters is the realisation that they’re part of a much bigger community – and the discovery of that community’s history, the horror and fury at the understanding of the full scope of what that community has suffered. The determination to make sure it never happens again.

This witch burns back, bitch.

Scratch Daughters is so much about community – and especially, specifically, queer community. It’s about making room for those who need it and keeping secrets that aren’t yours to share; dropping everything to extend a hand to, and keep safe, fellow queers. It’s about the bond that exists between everyone on the (black-brown-trans-)rainbow spectrum, regardless of our other differences. It’s about how people new to the community have to learn these rules, fast, because the first priority is having each other’s backs and that overrides pretty much everything else.

“I’m a fucking dyke, {spoiler}. I can’t not care.” Even soulless. Even when you loudly don’t deserve it.

Which is another way that Clarke draws a line between queerness and witchcraft, because witches need to have each others’ backs too, are under attack by a society that is indistinguishable from the one going after queers; that might actually be the same damn people because FUCK, and also FUCK THE CHANTRYS, and the worldbuilding that was in hindsight very much underlying Scapegracers unfolds spectacularly in Scratch Daughters in a reveal that made me want to claw some eyes out.

the world is a very sharp place for daughters

(It’s not like I could predict where this series was going before – Clarke is not interested in being predictable – but now Scratch Daughters has me really wondering about our final destination. According to what I found online, this is supposed to be a trilogy – but how can the Scapegracers burn the system down in one more book? AND THE SYSTEM NEEDS TO BURN, PEOPLE. THAT’S NOT UP FOR DEBATE.

Gods, I can’t wait to see it.)

To sidestep to a happier topic: as a nonbinary person, I am here to tell you that the Gender Stuff in this book made me so happy. The exploration of girlhood, finding a skin that fits, the reclamation of the face in the mirror, what it is to be femme or butch or something else entirely. The way it’s treated, important but not the Only Thing, not a gasps-shock-wtf thing, is so entirely correct. Clarke approaches it as something natural and normal, and if it was possible to fall in love any harder with this series, I would.

your knuckles bruising like a pride flag

And all of this is woven deftly through a plot that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go. Anything that tried to draw my attention away from Scratch Daughters was almost physically painful; I already told you I was up till 6am because who the fuck needs sleep when Sideways and her coven are impatiently waiting for you? How was I supposed to put this book down when Maddie was courting spontaneous combustion and Daisy was using flying-magic at cheer practice, when Mr Scratch was hungry and Yates wanted a Secret Santa, when Sideways was coming apart and the world was coming for all of them?

I couldn’t, obviously.

And you won’t be able to either.

The Scratch Daughters is a rainbow with razored edges, electric starfire caught in print, a war-cry and a scream of triumph and celebration. This is a book to devour, to treasure, to reread again and again as a shield against the world and a reminder that witches burn back. Speaking of: forget wordsmith, Clarke is a wordwitch, and has once again worked pure fucking magic with a sequel that, impossibly, outshines its predecessor.

It’s everything I wanted and more than I ever could have hoped for, and come 2029, it’ll be on my Best of the Decade list.

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