Some authors find inspiration in imagining worlds wholly new, spending hours and days creating place names and fictional histories. But other authors delight in taking the world we know—or think we know—and turning it on its head. They look at the nooks and crannies of our own history and ask themselves a simple question: What if things had been different? What if our world were just a little more interesting?
H.G. Parry is such an author. The second book from the New Zealand writer, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians, is a sweeping work that tells the story of change and magic at the peak of the Age of Enlightenment. The novel opens at the end of the 18th century as the world is poised for change, and introduces a cast of reimagined historical figures. On opposite ends of the globe, a young necromancer by the name of Robespierre and a weather mage named Toussaint L’Ouverture are preparing for revolution. In England, Prime Minister William Pitt and his MPs are debating not only abolition, but also the legalization of magic among commoners. And in the background of it all, a dark force lurks, threatening more than simple revolution or social change.
Perfect for fans of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, this magnificent and indulgent story balances a deep understanding of the historical trends and details of the age with a talent for twisting reality. Indeed, Parry’s greatest strength is in her ability to dive into the world of “What if . . . ?” and to come back with a compelling and often surprising answer. While enthralling from beginning to end, the book is not for the faint of heart. Both long and dense, it occasionally evokes the age it depicts in its prose. However, for readers who enjoy a clever turn of phrase or a thoughtful internal monologue, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians sings, turning the part of history class you might have slept through into something new, exciting and deeply magical.
While Parry’s sophomore release treads relatively new ground as far as historical fantasy goes, Katherine Addison’s The Angel of the Crows puts a twist on a story that is deeply familiar. The book opens as an injured Dr. J.H. Doyle returns to London from Afghanistan with a wounded leg and a deep secret. Unable to sustain a life in London on a mere military pension, Doyle is encouraged to move in with an angel named Crow. Crow is unlike any angel Doyle has ever seen. For one thing, even though he isn’t bound to a public building, he isn’t one of the lost Nameless or the destructive Fallen. For another, the strange angel delights in one thing above all others: solving mysteries, especially homicides. Together, Doyle and Crow tackle some of London’s hardest to solve cases even as Doyle is forced to reckon with the ghosts of injuries old and new.
If this sounds like something you’ve read before, it might be because it is. At its core, Addison’s latest book is a clever retelling of Sherlock Holmes, incorporating story elements from across the detective’s many cases. But The Angel of the Crows is not a simple regurgitation of well-rehearsed storylines. For one thing, Addison’s take on Victorian London, full of magic and magical folks, is not the one that Holmesians remember. For another, The Angel of the Crows doesn’t begin and end with murder: It asks penetrating questions of its readers about race, gender and civil liberties, raising issues that are unexplored in Conan Doyle’s original stories.
Both The Angel of the Crows and A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians craft compelling, challenging visions of European history, taking readers on a journey full of discovery, adventure and, most importantly, magic.