Thank you to the publicist for sending me an ARC!
Regardless of my rating, I have to start this off by saying: what H. G. Parry has accomplished is impressive. This book clearly took an enormous amount of research and planning, and the final product is absolutely a reflection of that time, effort, and dedication.
I just wish it was more up my alley.
The book follows the French Revolution and the co-current abolition movement in England, France, and the Caribbean Islands, set against a reimagined historical background in which magic exists and those who have it are closely monitored by their governments. The protagonists include some of the major historical players of the time: Maximilian Robespierre, William Pitt, and Toussaint Breda, among others.
It was an extensive portrait of a truly dark and tumultuous time in history. My primary problem, however, was that it often times read like a history book: pages and pages of dense information dropping and lengthy conversations between slightly drunk white men that I often found myself skimming. The parts that were most interesting to me were the magical aspects of the historical fantasy, how magic itself was used and abused, but even then those felt more like background embroidery at times.
I should also mention: another major topic of his book is the horrific practice of slavery, made even more unbearable by the way that white colonists used magic to oppress slaves in this universe. One of the main characters, and easily my favorite, is a former slave named Fina who finds herself able to shake off the magic freezing her and escape. The author does not shy away from depicting the horrors of her situation and the experience of her fellow slaves. The author is also White. While, as I said before, I feel like she has done extensive research, I’m always slightly wary of White authors using fantasy as a vehicle for telling stories about the very real horrors of slavery.
I also just struggle a bit with historical fiction generally: it feels odd to me reading stories from the perspectives of people who actually lived and understanding that the feelings and traits ascribed to them may or may not be true. It tends to take me out of the story somewhat.
Overall, I would recommend this novel less to fans of high fantasy and more to fans of historical fiction or lighter fantasy. I think this will be perfect for people who enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell: another example of a book in which, while I understands its appeal, just wasn’t quite for me.