Book Review: A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians

H. G. Parry

Rating: 2 out of 5.

published: 23rd June 2020
spoilers? nope


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.

Galley provided by publisher

CWs: graphic descriptions of slavery, gore, murder

This book, for me, was approximately 500 pages of boredom. I say 500, because for the first 50 or so pages, I thought I might be interested in it. I was quickly disillusioned, and then dragged myself through the rest of the book, in the vain hope that something might actually happen.

Spoiler alert: it did not.

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is an almost exact retelling of history as we know it, but with vampires, necromancers, and other magic users. Now, you might think that doesn’t sound so bad. But when I say “almost exact retelling”, I do mean it quite literally. About the only thing that changed about it was exact motivations for things.

I don’t know about you, but I’d have thought that, in a world with magic, history would not happen to unfurl in exactly the same manner as our world. Not to mention there’s a good two millenia plus of development before all this supposedly takes place. And I’m supposed to believe that, under conditions so drastically different from our own, there would be the exact same history unfolding in the exact same way?

And, honestly, that’s what made it most boring to me. That, and the fact that it spans so many years before we even get to the crux of the plot (which is only just revealed right at the end of the book, besides), and in those years, what do we get? Literally just intensely detailed political manoeuverings, a million minutiae on how exactly the very tiniest details of the world had changed.

It was, quite frankly, one of the most boring books I’ve ever had to drag myself through.

It’s not like it was badly written either, so I couldn’t just blame my boredom on not getting along with the writing. It was well-written, but dense and so bogged down in the details, I couldn’t even effectively skim-read it.

I was so bored by this book that, halfway through, I went and googled William Wilberforce, only to find out he had a direct hand in the creation of the Society for the Reformation of Manners, themselves a big player in the raids on molly houses in the 19th century. So yeah.

That nixed any chance of me liking his fictional representation and definitely nixed any chance of me liking this book.

But beyond the boredom, there were some other aspects I didn’t really like. Firstly, I don’t particularly enjoy reading about real historical people but fictionalised. It just feels like it can easily edge into smoothing out any nuance. Like how, apparently, Wilberforce was anti-unionist (and also, judging by the Society he formed, homophobic), but of course we don’t get presented with that here.

Oh and then there was the fact that the Haitian slave revolution was written as being initiated by a white man. With the caveat that I know very little about that, only what I’ve read online, it didn’t exactly feel great.

But then again, the whole “slavery but let’s make it even worse by having the characters bound within their bodies and controlled by the masters, because magic” part of this book didn’t feel so good at all.

So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.

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