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Review – A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry
Overall
7/10
7/10
  • Writing - 7/10
    7/10
  • Plot Development - 7/10
    7/10
  • Overall - 7/10
    7/10
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Summary

H.G. Parry explores what the eighteenth-century landscape (and particularly the French Revolution) may have looked like if some people possessed magical abilities.

Trigger warnings: slavery, compromising over human rights, really a lot of death.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry is an alternate history fantasy novel. It follows three primary perspectives through the late 1700s. Unlike in our world, people in this world have magic. However, magic is used to maintain a rigid class structure. Horrifyingly, the Black people enslaved in this alternate history are also spellbound, which limits their ability to do anything other than what they are told (although they are conscious the entire time). The common white people in Europe have it better (obviously), but if they are caught using unregistered magical ability, they are pretty much immediately imprisoned. Of course, the aristocrats are free to use their abilities (with some exceptions), though it is considered gauche to do so. These rigid class structures lead to quite a bit of unrest, which leads to our plot.

The first of these perspectives is of William Pitt and his friend William Wilberforce (both historical figures) as they rise in the British government and attempt to abolish slavery.  The second of these perspectives is of Maximilien Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins (again, historical figures) as they chafe against the limitations put on them because of their class. The third of these perspectives (in this list only—her perspective opens the book) is Fina, the only of our main perspective characters who was not a historical figure. Fina was taken from her home and enslaved in Jamaica at a young age. Eventually, her powerful magic enables her to escape the spellbinding. She joins up with Toussaint L’Overture (historical figure) and works to free others from slavery.

Plot Development

I would argue that the plot develops at a moderate pace, although some may find it slow. The major plot here (as alluded to in the title) is the magicians’ fight for revolution. It focuses a lot on the political storylines—the first two storylines I listed. This may be far too much politics for you, and that’s fine. I knew the basic outlines of the French Revolution, but only really from France’s perspective. Although it doesn’t have footnotes, it’s a pretty good comp for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It can be dry in similar ways, and really focuses on male friendships.

If I had to ask for more from this book, I would prefer to see more of Fina’s storyline. It was my favorite of the three storylines, and there was clearly more we could have seen. However, this is the first book in a duology and her perspective opens and closes the book (no spoilers). Even though Fina’s storyline could have been more prominent, there’s room in the narrative for it to gain traction. Even though H.G. Parry is a white woman (and I’m a white woman, so I might be missing some red flags here), there is some cause for optimism. Additionally, Fina’s the primary female character in the book, which I know some readers might want to know. She’s not the only woman in the book, but she’s the only one with such a big role.

Conclusion – A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians Sees History Through a Magical Lens

Everyone knows that politics are pretty much about compromise. In the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century, there was a lot of compromising about human rights, specifically Black human rights. It’s hard to argue that these are good times to read about white dudes compromising over human rights, even though the characters know that they’re not doing what they could. However, if the politicking of it all doesn’t bother you, this book is far more than a slightly-askew history lesson. A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians shows how a well-done magic system can highlight class divisions, and illustrates how friendships can decay over politicking and compromise.

I received this title from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

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