The Scratch Daughters by HA Clarke is a fantastic sequel in the Scapegracers series. Sideways has returned with a vengeance in an effort to get their specter back.
All quotes are from an advanced reader copy, and may or may not reflect the published edition.
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 specter 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…
Characters: 10 | Atmosphere: 9 | Writing: 9 | Plot: 8 | Intrigue: 10 | Logic: 8 | Enjoyment: 9
“Inside me, my devil foamed. He whipped himself into sharp edges, and something older and uglier than language pieced out, EAT THEM EAT THEM EAT THEM.”
Our favorite lesbian witch returns in The Scratch Daughters, this time without their specter and a little bit off. Sideways is dealing with sharing their mind with a book devil, and with senior year and changing friendship dynamics. This is a lot for one person, and it doesn’t help that often they have to share their brain further with Madeline running around planning revenge. They have their coven to help, but things are shifting there and adding another layer of difficulty for Sideways.
“I smiled so I didn’t start screaming. Daisy trick.”
The dynamic of the foursome friends turned Scapegracer’s coven was unique in that we watched a real shift that happens when adding someone to a group. There are growing pains, and moments where not everyone knows the same information, leading to arguments. Clarke did a really fantastic job of showing this behavior and creating dynamics that felt tangible. The girls’ relationships with one another are messy, sometimes toxic, but in the feral way that teen girls often are in reality.
“If I was good at squelching the strange in others, I’d be good at stamping it out of myself.”
Clarke also addresses a lot of religious homophobia and gender identity in this book, and I think he did a great job of it. The concept of taking in someone even if they’re your enemy and trying to understand their behavior while not necessarily forgiving it was really raw to see. Tying all of that in with the backstory around the Chantry coven, witch hunting, and Mr. Scratch’s original coven was extremely clever. It brought up concepts without them feeling thrown in for no reason, or adding in for the sake of including diversity. The characters are diverse, and their reasoning varied, but it all ties into the world and stories in a way that makes complete sense to the plot and their own personal identities.
“You’re tough, but you’re tough in a way that makes you a rock for people. I’ve known and seen people attempt masculinity by crushing everyone around them. You don’t need to crush people to be the most masculine person in the room. You’re solid, and grounded, and true.”
While this book took some time to find its footing, once it did, things took off in a really fantastic way. I loved the way Clarke’s characters grew and learned, while still continuing the plot and keeping things interesting. The backstory that we received made sense and was intriguing, while still keeping that feral rawness of the first book. This was an exceptional sequel and I can’t wait to read more from Clarke.
“You’re the right kind of person for a burned book, Sideways.”
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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