I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest opinion. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Fantasy/Alternative World Age Range: Adult Star Rating: Series: Yes - book 1 of duology CW: The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery
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.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS is a stunning historical, political fantasy that had me reading until almost midnight to finish in one sitting.
It’s not going to be a book for everyone. It’s a slow-paced book full of intricately detailed political scheming written in a more formal, distant prose that observes the action more than experiences it. I loved the style and the depth of the book, how the magic was woven into the historical events to create an alternate world that felt close enough to touch.
It follows the political turmoils of France and Britain through the later 1700s. Revolution rocks France, and the Revolutionary wars begin. The British Government are trying to keep hold of their own stability as France descends into revolution and Abolitionists try to get bills through parliament. At the same time, a shadowy figure is pulling strings.
I really loved the inclusion of the shadowy figure and the central mystery it created. It’s really hard to talk about it, and the way it plays into the mythology of the world, as it has so many spoilers, so all I’ll say is that the information gained about the said figure is enough to satisfy the mystery of this book, but also leave it hanging for new revelations in the sequel (yes! there’s going to be another book). I have a few theories already!
While the book is not written in a particularly deep POV, the characters themselves are vividly painted. They are very morally ambiguous at times (except Wilberforce). I loved the relationship between William Pitt (the Younger) and William Wilberforce. It’s full of mutual respect and brilliance, which makes the strains on it thanks to differing ideas and careers so heartbreaking to watch.
However, the best characterisation of the book comes from Robespierre, and the negative character arc he goes on. Even knowing the history of the French Revolution in broad strokes, I was still hoping he’d change path and wake up before he took a step too far. He’s a character steeped in a vision of a free France, only his action are painted in ever darker shades of grey. He’s got such a strong central moral code that made me root for him, even as his vision corrupted his action. It was so well done.
The book mentions slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade, through the eyes of the British Abolitionists (acknowledging the culpability of the French and British in the Atlantic Slave Trade) and a slave girl snatched from her home at the beginning of the book, Fina. Her POV is very scarce in the book, coming up more in the final act but still not much, as she shows the reader what’s happening on Saint-Domingue (a former French Colony in what it now called Haiti). It feels like she should either have had a more prominent role, or been cut, and I hope it was written with sensitivity readers.
I was very excited to discover this was a duology, so roll on book two!
Read my reviews of other books by H. G. Parry:
The Shadow Histories (this series):