Serena’s Review: “The Magician’s Daughter”

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Book: “The Magician’s Daughter” by H. G. Parry

Publishing Info: Redhook, February 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publisher!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: It is 1912, and for the last seventy years magic has all but disappeared from the world. Yet magic is all Biddy has ever known.

Orphaned in a shipwreck as a baby, Biddy grew up on Hy-Brasil, a legendary island off the coast of Ireland hidden by magic and glimpsed by rare travelers who return with stories of wild black rabbits and a lone magician in a castle. To Biddy, the island is her home, a place of ancient trees and sea-salt air and mysteries, and the magician, Rowan, is her guardian. She loves both, but as her seventeenth birthday approaches, she is stifled by her solitude and frustrated by Rowan’s refusal to let her leave. He himself leaves almost every night, transforming into a raven and flying to the mainland, and never tells her where or why he goes.

One night, Rowan fails to come home from his mysterious travels. When Biddy ventures into his nightmares to rescue him, she learns not only where he goes every night, but the terrible things that happened in the last days of magic that caused Rowan to flee to Hy-Brasil. Rowan has powerful enemies who threaten the safety of the island. Biddy’s determination to protect her home and her guardian takes her away from the safety of Hy-Brasil, to the poorhouses of Whitechapel, a secret castle beneath London streets, the ruins of an ancient civilization, and finally to a desperate chance to restore lost magic. But the closer she comes to answers, the more she comes to question everything she has ever believed about Rowan, her origins, and the cost of bringing magic back into the world.

Review: First things first, I absolutely love this book’s cover! It’s so unique and eye-catching. I’m on the record as disliking books using cover-models, and I’m even starting to burn out a little on the cartoonish characters (though there are still versions of this theme I can get behind.) But I think this cover does exactly what a good cover is meant to do: it communicates exactly what kind of book you’re going to get. And here, that would be a book taking place in a historical setting and featuring a fairytale-like tone of fantasy. So, well done cover artist! Let’s get to the book itself, though.

While Biddy understands that a world exists beyond the boundaries of the smile island that she shares with her magician guardian, Rowan, and his rabbit familiar, but all that she knows of it comes from books. Not only has she never seen a city, but while she knows that magic disappeared from the larger world decades ago, for her, growing up, she has been surrounded by it. But soon she sees that there are darker shadows growing in Rowans eyes every time he returns from the mysterious ventures to the outer world he goes on each night. As she finally begins to demand answers to her growing questions, she learns that there is much more going on in the world outside her home than she had ever suspected. And soon she may be needed to play a much larger role in shaping the future than she ever could have imagined.

I absolutely adored this book, as I knew I would almost from the first page of the novel. Of course, things could have always taken a turn for the dire, but the tone and style of the writing was exactly the sort that always appeals to me. The author was direct, and yet whimsical, deftly exploring the world and characters she had created while never falling into the trap of exposition or strange, narrated infodumps. On top of this, the dialogue was witty and had me laughing right from the start, particularly the interactions between Rowan and his familiar, Hutchingson.

But a book cannot live on funny dialogue alone. Indeed, for me, it really comes down to the characters themselves, and as Biddy is the protagonist with whom we travel this story alongside, the book lived and died based on her characterization. She, too, was exactly the sort of leading teenage character I enjoy. It’s a coming of age story where the character is doing exactly that…coming of age. She doesn’t start out as some “best assassin/thief/princess/etc.” and, indeed, the stories she paints about herself are challenged throughout the book. As she comes to understand the world and her own place in it, she must grow into understand the complexities of all the moving pieces and people in it. Rarely is anyone a true hero or true villain. Biddy must come to understand the adults in her life and the stories they, too, have built up around themselves and how they behave in the world and the choices they make. There were strong themes of family, choice, and the duties we have to those around us, both those with whom we are familiar and care for and those stranger who we will never meet but who we understand as humans too who deserve care and kindness as much as the next person.

I also really liked the way that the magic system was used to explore these themes. For what starts as a simple fantasy premise, that magic is leaving/has left the world, the author leverages this topic into deeper conversations about how society responds to emergencies. From what can be well-intentioned decisions going wrong to how those who seek power can take advantage to consolidate wealth into their own pockets at the expense of the many. It was really well done, and the story definitely took some twists and turns towards the last half that really surprised me and left me on the edge of my seat.

Indeed, I really have nothing to criticize about this book! I think it perfectly accomplished everything it set out to do, and it will surely appeal to all fantasy fans who are looking for a great fairytale-esque stand-alone fantasy. I can’t wait to see what the author does next! I’ll definitely be first in line to find out.

Rating 10: Heart-wrenching in all the right ways, this fairytale fantasy deftly explores important themes of individual choice and the responsibilities we have towards the least of those in society.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Magician’s Daughter” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Magicians in Historical Fiction.

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