Magic is Here, Queer, and Ready to Fuck You Up: The Scapegracers by H. A. Clarke

Posted 15th September 2020 by Sia in Crescent Classics, Fantasy Reviews, Queer Lit, Reviews / 2 Comments

The Scapegracers (Scapegracers, #1) by H. A. Clarke
Genres: Queer Protagonists
Representation: Lesbian MC, queer main characters, characters of colour, secondary gay characters, wlw or F/F, mlm or M/M
Published on: 15th September 2020

An outcast teenage lesbian witch finds her coven hidden amongst the popular girls in her school, and performs some seriously badass magic in the process.

Skulking near the bottom of West High’s social pyramid, Sideways Pike lurks under the bleachers doing magic tricks for Coke bottles. As a witch, lesbian, and lifelong outsider, she’s had a hard time making friends. But when the three most popular girls pay her $40 to cast a spell at their Halloween party, Sideways gets swept into a new clique. The unholy trinity are dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, and now–unbelievably–Sideways’ best friends.

Together, the four bond to form a ferocious and powerful coven. They plan parties, cast curses on dudebros, try to find Sideways a girlfriend, and elude the fundamentalist witch hunters hellbent stealing their magic. But for Sideways, the hardest part is the whole ‘having friends’ thing. Who knew that balancing human interaction with supernatural peril could be so complicated?

Rich with the urgency of feral youth, The Scapegracers explores growing up and complex female friendship with all the rage of a teenage girl. It subverts the trope of competitive mean girls and instead portrays a mercilessly supportive clique of diverse and vivid characters. It is an atmospheric, voice-driven novel of the occult, and the first of a three-book series.

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.

This isn’t a book. It’s a howl. It’s a roar. It’s a spell screamed at the sky. It’s fierce and bold and beautiful, it’s ancient magics rewritten in neon lights, it’s bared teeth and a middle finger, it’s lipstick smiles sharp as scythes, it’s a lit fuse, it’s living fire. It’s a war-cry. It’s shrieks of laughter. It’s the wild, feral joy that makes the hairs on your arms stand up and your blood pound.

This isn’t a book.

It’s something else.

Open Scapegracers, and you start the ritual. Every word is a sigil drawn directly on your mind; every page is another step in the spell. Reading becomes an act of power, witchcraft, charged and electric; you’re casting the enchantment on yourself each time you turn the page.

By the time you reach the end, gravity will be for other people.


What draws you into Scapegracers, first, is the beautiful prose. It’s lyrical, wild, raw, exquisite, a siren-song remixed for the modern age. The words get under your skin, catch in your eyelashes, spiral inside your head. Every other sentence is a nod from Clarke directly to the reader, a potent potion of truth that hits you low in your gut; true things that you’ve never been able to put into words, or that you’ve never heard anyone else think or say, flow through these pages like poetry.

“We’re inviting the liquid night, the molten magic. We’re inviting the star-spiked darkness inside and calling it to this circle. Flow through us and spill. All this dancing is in triumph and our booze is all libations. We’ve brought you beats and lights and glamour, we brought fresh meat, new blood, and booze, and in return, we want some chaos. We want havoc. Bring us hell.”

I want to push this book into the hands of every teenage girl, and everyone who has ever been a teenage girl, and everyone who has ever thought for even one second that teenage girls are things to mock or dismiss or objectify.

Clarke gets it.

I was not alone. In this space, in the presence of these sacred things, I felt witnessed and genuinely understood. I felt it marrow deep. It made me want to cry, or maybe crash my fists into something over and over again until it was dead.

The real, hardcore action takes a little while to get going. That’s fine. Because that’s just the cinematic stuff. The magic starts from the opening line and doesn’t let up for a second.

Wind picked up and tossed our hair, and it felt like celestial validation, like the entire night was primed for whatever I was going to do. Wreak havoc, said Nature. Raise hell. Our hands vibrated where they touched. This didn’t feel like a liquor-dusted parlor trick; this was ancient, opulent, invincible. It was the realest thing in the world.

Sideways is a witch, and I can only assume Clarke is too, because I’ve never read a book that so completely and perfectly captures what it’s like to be a witch and work real magic. Or, for that matter, what it’s like to be a teenager, feral and wary and wanting to belong.

That’s where Yates, Daisy, and Jing come in.

they were dangerous angels, sugar-coated rattlesnakes, the kind of girls who everybody adored

And once they see Sideways’ magic, they want in. They want her. Not to use her or possess her, but to join their sisterhood. To make their coven.

They’d look at us like we were teenage Erinyes.

(For the record? Erinyes are better known as the Furies from Greek mythology. Clarke’s writing isn’t pretentious, but Scapegracers doesn’t talk down to you, either. Or slow down. You want the magic, you need to keep up. You need to want it.

Which is my way of letting you know that lines like this, references like this, are scattered throughout, and each one is a dark and delicious surprise. ‘It was bleaker than Nietzsche on the staircase’? *chef’s kiss*)

And that’s just what the four of them do: form a coven. Form a sisterhood. Scapegracers is all about sisters, girlhood, femininity, friendship. It’s about being stronger together. It’s about the wildness that waits under the most ribbon-bedecked girls, about nails shining with sparkly polish still being sharp as claws. Scapegracers does not sneer at or demonise girls who like pink any more than it turns its nose up at girls who like leather jackets. There’s countless ways to be a girl, and they’re all valid, and they’re all powerful.

Scapegracers is a manifesto, and its message is this: Girls are magic.

“I guess my point is that teenage girls aren’t supposed to be powerful, you know? Everybody hates teenage girls. They hate our bodies and hate us if we want to change them. They hate the things we’re supposed to like but hate it when we like other things even more, because that means we’re ruining their things. We’re somehow this great corrupting influence, even though we’ve barely got any legal agency of our own. But the three of us – the four of us, counting you – we’re powerful. Maybe not in the ways that people are supposed to be, maybe in ways that people think are scary or hard to understand, but we are. Magic is ambiguous. It’s scary and flashy and everybody wants it and it really freaks people out. I guess it fits with the rest.”

It’s also a celebration of queerness, and draws a beautiful parallel between the queer experience and the witch experience. You don’t have to be queer to be magic, but you are magic if you’re queer.

There is action. There are mysteries. There are wonders to be discovered and miracles to be made. There’s a patriarchy to burn down and neon myths to tell. But I’m not going to tell you what they are. What would be the point of that? You need to read them for yourself.

You need to work magic to understand it.

2020 has been the year of the Queer Witch. We’ve been absolutely spoiled for choice, from Witches of Ash and Ruin and When We Were Magic, to Elysium Girls and This Coven Won’t Break – and, of course, the breathtaking Dark Tide.

Widen your definition of ‘witch’ a little and we also have Storm of Life, The Fascinators, Harrow the Ninth, and Cemetery Boys, all featuring queer magic users of one stripe or another. I could wrangle another dozen entries to the list from books I know of, and I’m sure there’s more that somehow escaped my notice.

But it doesn’t matter how many there are. A Queendom has only two monarchs, and Dark Tide claims one crown – but Scapegracers takes the other.

Then snaps it in half, tosses the pieces aside, and gives you the finger, laughing, for thinking it wants or needs validation from anyone.

Scapegracers doesn’t need you to love it. It dares you not to.

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2 responses to “Magic is Here, Queer, and Ready to Fuck You Up: The Scapegracers by H. A. Clarke

  1. Hi Sia, I recently came across your blog via Twitter. Your blog name immediately caught my attention, as I am also a big Wayward Children fan 🙂 Great review! I’m not usually interested in urban fantasy but I can definitely get behind teenage witches and I like what you’ve written about the prose.

    • Hi Jenna! Good to know the twitter spam is working – and Wayward Children fans are ALWAYS welcome! And thank you! I had a lot of fun with this one 🙂 If you are willing to give urban fantasy a go, this one is definitely worth it!

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