Book Review: A RADICAL ACT OF FREE MAGIC by H. G. Parry

Title in red on white next to black
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: yes - second book in duology



Book cover for A RADICAL ACT OF FREE MAGIC: titel in red and black on white

The Concord has been broken, and a war of magic engulfs the world.

In France, the brilliant young battle-mage Napoleon Bonaparte has summoned a kraken from the depths, and under his command the Army of the Dead have all but conquered Europe. Britain fights back, protected by the gulf of the channel and powerful fire-magic, but Wilberforce’s own battle to bring about free magic and abolition has met a dead end in the face of an increasingly fearful and repressive government. In Saint Domingue, Fina watches as Toussaint Louverture navigates these opposing forces to liberate the country.

But there is another, even darker war being fought beneath the surface: the first vampire war in hundreds of years. The enemy blood magician who orchestrated Robespierre’s downfall is using the Revolutionary Wars to bring about a return to dark magic to claim all of Europe. Across the world, only a few know of his existence and the choices they make will shape the new age of magic.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


The reviews for books you adore are often very hard to write (because arhhhhhhhhhh!!!!! alas does not constitute a review) and this book is no exception.

This series combines some of my favourite things – actual history, political debates, and magic. It’s like the author reached into my mind to bring out everything I love in a look, with all the scheming and peril, and meticulous attention to detail.

This is not the sort of historical fantasy that wholesale changes things to suit the story’s needs, but rather takes the history and works around the edges, changing small details to let magic in. It’s so intricate and would have taken a lot of research to feel so perfectly put together.

A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS followed the French Revolution (plus all the British politics happening at the same time and the Saint-Domingue/Haitian Slave Revolt) and A RADICAL ACT OF FREE MAGIC is Napoleon! I’ve read other historical fantasies around Napoleonic wars, but done that dig so deeply into the politics happening around the same time. This is not a “we have to fight Napoleon” book, because it goes so much broader than that. We still have Fina on Saint-Domingue/Haiti (I was so pleased when she met up with the others).

There are new additions to the cast two. Obviously, Napoleon replaces Robspierre, though much less time is spent on Napoleon than Robspierre got, as the focus is on finding “the enemy/the stranger.” The mysterious vampire is the real villain. Plus there’s Catherine, a commoner mage who joins the navy and (non-POV) Pitt’s niece Hester, who was probably my favourite of the new members.

Even knowing roughly how it would end (thanks to knowing the basics of Pitt’s life), I was still tearing up by the end. It is the mark of really strong writing and a brilliant relationship between Pitt and Wilberforce for me (who does not often cry with books) to be on the verge when I knew how it would end.

Between this duology and THE UNLIKELY ESCAPE OF URIAH HEEP, H. G. Parry demonstrates her real skill at writing complex, but incredibly strong (to the point of unbreakable despite massive challenges) relationships that tug at heartstrings. Pitt/Wilberforce’s relationship is the heart of the book, seeing them come back together after the tensions they ended the previous book on – plus the friendship at the pivotal point of the finale.

Read my reviews of other books by H. G. Parry:

The Shadow Histories (this series):



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