A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a genre-defying story of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.
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.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
From the first one, I was absolutely enthralled with this book. Historical Fantasy’s not my usual genre, but this one gripped me in a way few books do. Between the complexity and nuances of all the lead characters and the way the author was able to so seamlessly integrate magic into our own world, and account for how society reacts to magic, I absolutely fell in love.
A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians hits a point for me few books seem to manage, which is to so thoroughly integrate magic into the small minutiae of society that I’m never left wondering, why don’t people just do X with magic? The book starts with both leads, William Pitt in England and Robespierre in France, fighting for the rights of Commoners to perform magic. If a Commoner family was able to use weathermancy, they would have been able to water their crops and not starve, if a Commoner firemage could heat his house, he wouldn’t risk freezing to death. It’s these little details that I thought fleshed out the book, and this re-imagined 18th century that gave the worldbuilding so much life.
On a larger scale, this Western Europe 18th century has just come out of the American Revolution, and revolution, freedom for all magicians, is in the air. The center of this book is politics, the slow gradual freedoms and allowances that Pitt manages to muster through in England, sharp, explosive rebellions taking place in France, and a fight for freedom from slavery in Haiti.
I admit having absolutely no knowledge of the French Revolution, or this general time period. About halfway through, I asked several friends who’d taken French in high school what role Robespierre had in the Revolution because he seemed like a pretty neat, smart dude. I was laughed at. Turns out, Robespierre was the one running around with the guillotine. Which, frankly, speaks so well to how these characters are developed and characterized. Robespierre doesn’t start his life a bloodthirsty tyrant, and it’s fascinating to be able to follow him throughout this book, reading from his perspective, and seeing that slow descent into tyranny.
Similarly in England, we have William Pitt and his best friend/close political colleague William Wilberforce. Pitt and Wilberforce have this fantastic bromance (is it weird to say important historic political figures have bromances?) and through it, we are able to really delve into the psyche of each. However, with their good friendship emphasized so heavily, it’s clear to the reader that, like all people with different goals and worldviews, they’ll one day have a falling out. And when that happens, as the reader, I feel that I knew both characters so well that I’d never be able to pick a side.
It’s rare that I enjoy Victorian/Regency-esque prose, but Parry really knocks the writing out of the park. The best way I can describe it is Victorian enough, but not so much that it stifles the rest of the story. Pacing wise, the book is fairly slow. For a book about revolutions, the story itself is surprisingly character-driven. Personally, I enjoyed taking a deep-dive into the minds of our different leads, but I’ve had friends complain it’s too slow. Parry is flexing her knowledge of the French Revolution and it shows.
There are two points I want to make note of, however, not necessarily as detractors, but just good information for a reader going into this book. The first is that this book is not a standalone. Beyond the French Revolution, the English trying to decide how to respond, and the Haitian revolution, there’s a shadowy 4th party in the background, pulling strings and pushing pieces around. That character makes small appearances here and there, which led me to believe that they were the final boss of the book. Which they were not.
The second is that when we follow Pitt and Wilberforce, their main focal point is the abolition of the slave trade. While the book doesn’t delve much into the arguments of the opposing side, avoiding it entirely is impossible as well. Even on the Abolitionist side, the arguments often used delve into the economic value and worth of a human life, and in many situations, these debates, to me, were portrayed as old white men calmly discussing slavery with little-to-no input from former slaves. For me, these discussions came off as extremely sanitized with little acknowledgment from the Abolitionists of the racism that was surely rampant during the era. Especially with the current political climate in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement, this language may be triggering to some readers.
Overall, I rate this book a 5/5. I was stunned by the worldbuilding and the integration of magic into 18th century Europe and I loved the writing and the sheer character development of the characters we follow. Extremely topical for our current political climate and an absolutely fascinating read! Definitely in contention for my favorite book of 2020.
r/Fantasy 2020 Bingo Squares
- Novel Featuring Necromancy (hard mode)
- Novel Published in 2020
- Novel Featuring Politics