A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H G Parry

June 25, 2020

It is the Age of Enlightenment — of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for revolution in France to the weather mage Toussaint L’Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic amongst commoners in Britain and abolition throughout its colonies overseas.

But amidst all of the upheaval of the early modern world, there is an unknown force inciting all of human civilization into violent conflict. And it will require the combined efforts of revolutionaries, magicians, and abolitionists to unmask this hidden enemy before the whole world falls to darkness and chaos.

This week I’m taking a look at the latest novel from H G Parry. A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a reimagining of a key moment in European history, with the addition of some distinctly more fantastical elements.

Taken from Africa as a small child Fina, is a slave on a British plantation in Jamaica. Magic is used to control the workforce as they are forced to toil in back breaking conditions. Fina has learned to internalise everything as the magic that binds her ensures complete, unyielding compliance of her body. The only place where Fina is free is in her thoughts. I loved how Fina’s character evolves in the tiniest of increments. She learns she is different from many of the other slaves. Her mental strength allows her to unlock latent abilities that have the potential to change the world. This process doesn’t happen overnight, it takes years. Each step Fina took forward made me want to cheer. Fina’s is a harrowing journey and as she escapes her bonds, she begins to understand just how truly powerful she actually is.

Meanwhile Paris in the late 1700s is a powder keg. The divide between the aristocracy and the commoners is wider than ever. Maximilien Robespierre is a particularly fascinating character. He finds himself in the unenviable position of doing dark deeds for what he considers to be the best of reasons. The further he is drawn into the revolutionary cause the worse things he is forced to do. You get a real sense that this is a man being pulled apart by his own internal conflict. For all the revolutionary rhetoric and rabble rousing, all Robespierre really wants to do is make life better for the masses.  The problem is that the more powerful he becomes, the more his mental state unravels. Robespierre has the ability to raise the dead to do his bidding, but necromancy and mesmerism come at a cost. After earning the nickname “The Incorruptible”, to use a modern analogy, he starts to believe his own press. I sort of felt like I was watching a terrible car accident unfold in slow motion. There was an inevitability about it all, his fate was decided from the outset, but I couldn’t look away.

In Britain, William Pitt and his compatriot, William Wilberforce, are trying to change the system from within. Blessed with mesmeric skills, Pitt has started a career in politics. A staunch believer in the abolitionist movement, Wilberforce is Pitt’s moral compass. Their thread of the narrative provides context and comparison with the situation in France and the West Indies.

Parry’s main characters are perfectly executed. Alternating chapters between their viewpoints ensures the reader learns how magic and politics have defined the nations of the world. The plot seamlessly blends together historical fact and fantastical fiction. Though known as the Age of Enlightenment these were turbulent, bloody times. Society preyed on society and evil was commonplace. People may have tried to justify their actions as being for the greater good, but it is difficult to reconcile that view with modern eyes. Though this is a work of fiction, the French Revolution happened, slavery happened. Imperialism and colonialism are the root cause of many issues still experienced today. Parry’s fiction not only entertains, it also informs.

There are brief mentions of Europe’s alternate history that leave the reader hungry for more. It is only touched upon a handful of times, having taken place hundreds of years in the past, but I know I would happily read an entire novel based around something referred to as “the Vampire Wars”. Admit it, that sounds all kind of awesome. Parry’s world building is first rate, it grabs your attention from page one and refuses to let go. The Reign of Terror and the slave trade become even bleaker prospects when necromancy is suddenly a factor.

Ultimately, I think this is a novel about the nature of change. Fina yearns for the right to be free, to be the equal of others. Pitt recognises the system he is part of is fundamentally wrong, and that his country is complicit. Meanwhile, Robespierre will do absolutely anything, legal or otherwise, to achieve a just society. They all want to reach the same destination but the roads they travel to get there could not be more different.

Parry’s The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep was a thoroughly entertaining debut, but A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is an author hitting their stride. The scope of the novel maybe vast but it is delivered with masterful skill. Though this is a work set in a historical context, many of the themes discussed feel timely. I strongly advise checking this out. This is definitely going to be one of my books of the year.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is published by Orbit and is available now. Highly recommended. I am left with a single question – is there going to be a sequel? There needs to be a sequel. I need to read it immediately, if not sooner. There are so many tantalizing, unanswered questions.

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel was the easiest choice in the world. The soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed: Unity by Chris Tilton perfectly captures the tone of revolution and conspiracy that appears throughout the novel. The fact that the game is set during the same time period and in France is the happiest of coincidences.

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