I received an eARC of this book from the publisher (Orbit/Redhook) and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a truly brilliant example of alternative history. Parry managed to stay completely faithful to the persons and events that make up the true history of this time period while deftly adding in the existence of magic and exemplifying how that existence might have impacted the French Revolution and the British fight to abolish the slave trade. Historical figures like William Pitt, William Wilberforce, Toussaint Bréda L’Ouverture, and Maximilien Robespierre are all exquisitely portrayed both as individuals that really existed and fictional characters whose minds were are invited to explore. Parry balanced this contrast beautifully. She could have rewritten history in a way that made it somehow less. She could have stayed so true to history that the narrative felt more like a nonfiction text than a novel. But she did neither of those things. She was able to bridge that divide in a way that both informs and inspires, that encourages both historical curiosity and fantastical imaginings. I’m truly in awe of what she was able to do with this novel.
“And beneath the surface, something was moving. Something that spoke of change, and of revolution, and of blood.”
One of the things I loved most about this book is how the importance in friendship is demonstrated in each of the three plot-lines. Pitt and Wilberforce, Robespierre and Camille, Toussaint and Fina (a character of Parry’s own imagination) are the central hubs around which this triune story orbits, and their relationships with one another play incredibly important roles in history. These relationships are what kept the story from seeming too dry. I especially loved the friendship between Pitt and Wilberforce, and was always excited when the narrative swung back in their direction. Parry has a gift with her craftsmanship of witty dialogue that feels appropriate to the time period without ever seeming stuffy. I found every debate and conversation a pleasure to read because of this.
“It isn’t about proving what we can be. It’s about becoming what we can be.”
Slavery is the most heinous act we as humans have ever wrought upon one another. I didn’t think it could be portrayed in a worse light than its reality, but Parry managed to make it even more horrifying with her addition of spellbinding slaves by forcing them to ingest magical elixirs that deprived them of all outward freewill. I can’t imagine not being able to control my body at all, with every single blink and twitch dictated by someone who has decided that I am property. And to make matters in the book even worse, the spellbound slaves are still completely aware inside their minds and are screaming for release and fighting a losing battle for control of their own bodies. The concept is terrifying.
“To some extent, we all have the capacity to become monsters.”
While I very much enjoyed the book, I must confess that I found myself getting bogged down in the legislation pretty frequently. This isn’t Parry’s fault, as the synopsis is very clear regarding the plot of the book, and it’s a plot that is necessarily very reliant on legality and politics. However, this obviously results in a slower pace and less action that some fantasy readers expect from the books they choose, so just be aware that this book is more of an alternate history that involves magic than it is a fantasy novel. While I haven’t yet read it myself, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell sprang immediately to mind within the first twenty pages, and I believe that fans of that novel will find Parry’s sophomore work very appealing.
“I sometimes think ‘just this once’ is the most dangerous phrase in the English language.”
My only other qualm with A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is Parry’s choice of ending. For such a large, often meandering novel, the ending felt very abrupt and left me unsatisfied. If there is a sequel planned, I will be much more content upon learning of its existence. But as I went into this book believing it to be a standalone, I was a bit frustrated when I read the final chapter and saw that I had reached the end before more of the plot-lines were tied up.
“Liberty, what crimes are committed in your name!”
Parry is a brilliant author. She has a wonderful flow to her prose that feels both effortless and highly intelligent. I know how much research goes into a book like this, but Parry tells the story in such a way that the reader is able to forget how much work went into it and simply lose themselves in the writing. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both novels I’ve read from her, and I can’t wait to see what she puts out next. But I’m clinging to hope that said next book will be a continuation of this particular story.