Review: A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians

Posted: June 19, 2020 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: H.G. Parry, Alternate Historical Fiction, alternate history, fantasy, historical fantasy
A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians

A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS explores the ways that magic might have intertwined with slavery, trade, and politics during the political upheaval of the 1790s. Also, there’s dark magic. And vampires. And they storm the Bastille!

But you knew that last one already.

In Parry’s past, “commoner” magicians are prevented from using their magic with heavy silver bracelets, monitored by the Knights Templar. Europe lives under the fear of another Vampire War, like the one that devastated that continent 300 years ago. And the sense that people should have the right to practice their own magic freely is growing.

A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS follows several prominent figures through the events of the last turbulent years of the 18th century. The novel begins as William Wilberforce, who would become a key figure in the drive to abolish slavery, is searching for a cause to dedicate his life to. William Pitt, the future prime minister of Britain, must hide who he really is for fear of reprisal. Maximilien Robespierre, a provincial, French lawyer with a strong sense of right and wrong chafes against the increasingly tyrannical rule of the french monarchy. And in the British colony of Jamaica, an enslaved woman named Fina discovers she is a powerful magician as she fights against the magic used to prevent slaves from revolting.

While the French revolution and the movement to abolish slavery provide a natural flow to the narrative, the driving emotional through line comes from two sets of remarkable friendships: William Wilberforce and William Pitt in England and Maximilien Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins in France. These historical figures were forceful and compelling in their own right, but Parry succeeds in the task of making them vibrant characters in her novel. Indeed, while the 1790s gave us some astonishingly compelling political drama, the parts of the novel that made me say “oh no” out loud (this is a good thing) were all rooted in character relationships.

Although the novel spends less time with Fina, her journey is also interesting and I suspect her narrative will become more central in the second installment of THE SHADOW HISTORIES. In particular, Fina’s trusting yet difficult relationship with Toussaint Louverture, the leader of the uprising in Saint Domingue (modern day Haiti) promises interesting developments.

A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS successfully combines friendship, magic, and politics in an entertaining re-imagination of the past.

A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS covers a relatively brief time span, but Parry covers A LOT of history and she does it remarkably well. Even as I found myself becoming slightly weary of keeping track of factions in the French revolution, I was simultaneously impressed that Parry was able to simplify the historical narrative enough to make a fun novel, while still guiding her readers through complicated historical events. The history and politics read easily and smoothly.

Parry has a very specific story of friendship and magic to tell, and it’s one that she tells successfully. But I couldn’t help wondering as I was reading if she couldn’t have pushed her narrative to center different, vital voices. Historical fantasy can be tricky. Where do you deviate from events–only in magical ways, or do you alter history as well? Do you allow magic to change gender dynamics, or to defocus narratives away from the predominantly white male perspectives? If we are changing history so profoundly as to add vampires and magic, why not also add perspectives from women and people of color? I don’t expect Parry to answer all these questions, but they were certainly in my mind as I read through the novel and wished occasionally that the majority of the perspectives were not white men.

There’s no word yet on when the second book in THE SHADOW HISTORIES might be published, but when it does I’ll be marking my calendar for the release.

  • Recommended Age: 11+
  • Language: None
  • Violence: A brutal slave uprising and the French revolution. Bloody, but mostly abstract.
  • Sex: None

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