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Book Review: The Engelsfors Trilogy

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Friends, I cannot contain my excitement any longer: I have to talk about the Engelsfors Trilogy. “But, Kyrie,” you might say. “You haven’t even finished the third book, right?” Oh, like that’s going to stop me.

Here is the initial premise of the first book, The Circle (or Cirkeln, in the series’ original Swedish version): after the apparent suicide of a local high school student, six small-town teenage girls learn that they are witches known as the Chosen Ones, destined to stop demons from destroying the world. “Ugh, Kyrie,” you might be thinking. “This sounds unspeakably cliché. I’ve heard it a thousand times. Do they seriously use the phrase ‘Chosen One’ unironically? Are main characters all from different cliques that hate each other until they learn how much they have in common, too?” Well, sort of. “But, Kyrie–” No, no, settle down. Would I steer you wrong? If anything, the Engelsfors Trilogy proves that there’s no such thing as a boring idea or a stock character, if you put in the time and effort to write well enough.

And the writing here is more than just good: it’s fantastic. Our main girls — Rebecka, Minoo, Vanessa, Linnea, Anna-Karin, and Ida — all slot into what seem like recognizable tropes, as the nerd or the queen bee or the outspoken goth-y outsider. The joy of reading about each of them comes from the sheer level of detail informing their lives. Every character has a layered personality, as well as a meticulously constructed background where we meet their parents and their individual social circles. This sounds like it runs the risk of bogging down the story with irrelevant information, but the character development is so deftly handled and important to the plot that it never becomes extraneous. You intimately understand why each character makes the decisions they do, and it makes all three books that much more effective.

Naturally, the series also hits up all the required coming-of-age themes of loss, bullying, depression, eating disorders, and so on. However, there’s not a single “teen issue” here that feels trite or condescending or soapy: again, the writers approach every idea from the ground up and play it out to the logical extreme. What would happen if you’d spent your entire life being tormented and abused by classmates, and were suddenly given mind control? What would happen if the kids who’d made your life hell tried to kill you, and you knew no one would believe it since you’re from the wrong side of the tracks? What if you not only had to save every person on the planet, but also constantly felt as if you had to take care of your ailing parents? Everything is treated with sensitivity, complexity, and zero cheese factor. The best part is how there are not shortcuts whatsoever. These might be magically gifted heroes, but they don’t just brush off evil attack after evil attack like many protagonists do. Here, trauma is a real thing that everyone has to learn to process and live with in their own way.

On top of everything, it’s refreshing as anything to see explicitly lesbian and bisexual protagonists. Too often, that kind of progressive writing is handed to side characters, and/or only one main character is “the gay/bi one” with zero chance of any other main characters being LGBT. (I love PLL’s Emily Fields and The 100’s Clarke Griffin both to death, but it’s true.) Here, we get two well-rounded central players individually figuring out their sexualities and who they want to be with, and it’s awesome.

All in all, Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg’s trilogy is immediately rich and engaging, full of ideas that YA fiction frequently glosses over. I might not know how it ends yet, but I have total faith in the series’ direction. If you’re up for a morally and philosophically complicated rollercoaster,  or just love anything with well-written teenage girls full of agency driving the story, then it’s time to give Swedish witchy shenanigans a shot. If the length of these books seems daunting, then let me reassure you: The Circle’s 516 pages will fly right by until you reach the end, genuinely excited for more from the next two installments.

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