Title: A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
Series: The Shadow Histories
Author: H.G. Parry
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Fair warning: this book will feel extremely slow for those who are used to action packed, fast reads. That said, if you are like me and it doesn’t bother you at all, then read this book. It’s brilliant.
A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a historical fantasy book that recounts the events of the French Revolution, but with magic in the mix. Before we get into too many details, let me paint a picture of the world we are in.
Not everyone has magic in their veins, and not everyone’s magic is the same. Every baby is tested soon after birth to ascertain wether they have a magical Inheritance, and which one it is. Royal families are famous for having extremely strong magicians in their midst, as a magically strong king or queen is viewed as a guarantee that the country can be kept safe against foreign invasions and the like.
Aristocrats are free to use their magic, provided they do so mostly for entertainment purposes. The commoners, however, are allowed to use their magic only for self-defence. They are braceleted at birth: a small band of metal around their wrists starts burning their skin if they use their powers, and alerts the Temple Guards that someone is using unauthorised magic.
Something called the “Vampire Wars” has almost destroyed Europe about 300 years prior to the story; vampire royal families waged war to one another using their strong abilities to influence people – mesmerism, as it’s called in the novel – and armies of the dead to try and destroy their opponents. At the end of this almost catastrophic events, the Templars have all but estinguished vampire families, necromancers are killed at birth, and all countries involved have signed the Concord: a treaty that forbids them to use magic to settle international disputes.
In this fascinating world, H.G. Parry takes existing people as the main characters and shows us the events of the Revolution through the lens of politics. If it sounds boring, I promise you: it isn’t. The characters are extremely well realised, their conversations never dull, and the stakes higher and higher as we go on.
We follow the events in three different locations: London, Paris, and the colonies in Central America, particularly Jamaica and Saint Domingue.
When young William Pitt is made Prime Minister of Great Britain, he takes up the fight for the legalization of magic amongst commoners and, together with his friend William Wilberforce, for the abolition of slavery in the colonies. But he also hides a dangerous secret, something that could cost him his life if somebody found out.
In France, Maximilien Robespierre is a young lawyer, but he’s tired of the way his country treats the citizens and restricts their freedom. With his friend Camille Desmoulins and the aide of a mysterious stranger that only visits him when he’s sleeping, he’ll start a revolution that will change the face of France – and of all of Europe.
Fina is only a little girl when she’s taken from her home in Africa, spellbound to obedience, and sent overseas to Jamaica to work in a sugarcane plantation. When she slowly grows free of her bonds and hears a voice in her head calling for liberation, she decides to follow it to Saint Domingue, where rebellion is brewing.
In these very unstable times, H.G. Parry guides us through real events while weaving magic into the story without it feeling forced or superflous. I was as intrigued with the politics as I was with the more supernatural events. The characters are all extremely vivid and real, with their doubts and beliefs, their fears and hopes. Even if they’re basically pitched against each other, I could never decide who I was rooting for the most.
Despite it being very political and with very little action, I can’t recall a single part of the story where I felt bored or like I didn’t care. True enough, the Saint Domingue plot was my least favourite, as it had less pages and felt too far away from the main conflict, but even then the writing style is so flawless that I found myself flying through the pages anyway.
When I started reading, I thought this novel was a standalone, and the ending kind of took me by surprise. I just turned the page and… there was nothing else. Thankfully, after a very quick search, I found out it’s a duology.
The story in this first volume stretches from the very beginning of the French Revolution right up to the end of the Terror. If you know your history, this means that Robespierre’s plot pretty much ends there, but the other characters feel like they still have much more to do. The second book doesn’s have a title at the moment, but it should come out in 2021.
Overall, I truly loved the experience of reading this novel. I’ve seen reviews of people who were bored to tears by it; clearly that didn’t happen to me. I felt for all of the characters, and I loved seeing their interactions and inner workings. Yes, it’s a book about revolution and war, but it’s mostly about the way this events affect the people who live them, how they react, how it changes them.
If anything I said sounds at least a little bit interesting to you, I can’t recommend it enough. And if you read it, let me know what you think about it!