Book Review: A Radical Act Of Free Magic (The Shadow Histories #2), by HG Parry

A Radical Act of Free Magic (The Shadow Histories, #2)
A thrilling and magical alternative historical fantasy | Physical ARC from Orbit | pages: 496 | Publishing: July 2021 | Publisher: Orbit

A Radical Act of Free Magic, by HG Parry is the sequel and final instalment in The Shadow Histories Duology. For my review of book 1 – Book Review: A Declaration Of The Rights Of Magicians, by HG Parry.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

4.5 Stars


Synopsis: England and France are on the verge of a long brewing war, and Napoleon has taken up the helm. Saint-Dominigue is fighting for freedom and independence. But the war is not just one of nations and freedom, it is a war rooted in blood and ancient traditions – a war of Vampires.

CW/TW: War/death/mass death/slavery/enslavement/chronic illness and sickness/violence/oppression – I may have missed some but any warnings that apply to history/historical events may apply.


SPOILER WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR BOOK 1 – Book Review: A Declaration Of The Rights Of Magicians, by HG ParryIN THIS DUOLOGY.


A Radical Act of Free Magic, by HG Parry is an impressive conclusion to the Shadow Histories duology. Parry perfectly manages to combine history with magic while maintaining the brutal truths of war and the cruelty of powerful nations.

The writing/narrative. Parry has an eloquent and rich writing style, with prose that is detailed and engaging. While the pace of the story is slow, a slow burn build up to war and its consequences, this works incredibly well for this particularly story – due to its complexity and multiple components. The nature of the story is heavily focused on politics and war strategy, and yet Parry‘s prose makes it easy to understand and comprehend, making even the political debates interesting.

Not only does Parry perfectly match her prose and pace to maintain our attention, she also provides us with vivid descriptions of settings, characters and magic alike. She perfectly captures the multiple sides of magic from the beautiful descriptions of free magic and the peoples connection to it, and the gritty or brutal descriptions of magic when used in war.

The book uses multiple narratives to allow us to see multiple countries and the multiple sides to the war and they work wonderfully when it comes to the large time period the book spans. Our main pov’s come from Pitt, Wilberforce, Napoleon and Fina. Pitt and Wilberforce’s narratives gives us insight into Britain, the political unrest, the abolitionists and Britain’s stance on magic, Napoleon gives us insight into France and his own rise to power, and Fina gives us insight into Saint-Dominigue’s fight for independence, freedom and the freedom of those enslaved by France and Britain. The multiple narration helps to control the pace and keep us interested in this slow burn story by slowly pulling the multiple components together.

One thing I was really happy about was that we got a lot more of Fina and her perspective in this book compared to book one. Her perspective is arguably one of the most important perspectives in the book and we got a lot more of this – which I think made this book all the more powerful.

The Plot/Magic. HG Parry seamlessly incorporates magic with history, perfectly combining it with accurate and key historical events to make this an impressive alternate historical fantasy that still captures the important aspects of the war, politics and freedom of people.

The plot in book one is heavily focused on the freedom of Britain’s common people, the French revolution, and the cruelty of the slave trade. Book 2 moves onto France’s war with Britain, and the fight for independence and freedom of the people of Saint-Dominigue as well as those enslaved and victimised by Britain and France (with a focus on the plantations in Jamaica). The magic comes into play in a few ways. Firstly we now know who ‘the stranger’ is, or I should say what he is. We know he is a Vampire who is manipulating France, and this time Napoleon, in order to force them into a war with Britain. The second way magic is used is to illustrate class disparity – with ‘commoners’ having severe restrictions on their use of magic and suffering severe punishments if they use it. The final way magic is used is within the slave trade – magic is cruelly used to spellbind the people enslaved to prevent them from being able to act against the plantation owners or those who rip them from their homes.

Magic is a big element of the story, primarily the new Vampire war being a core aspect, with France and Britain being two Vampire’s domains. However, Parry is very careful when it comes to the villainous magical vampire – she doesn’t make the Vampire the big villain of the story, but rather uses him and the magic itself to draw powerful highlights on how it is humans that are the villains. The Vampire may manipulate people, as we saw in book one, and instigate war but it was all facilitated by the cruelty of humans – particularly those in power. She never erases history and replaces it with some magical big bad villain, never distances Britain and France’s cruel history of slavery from the Nations and their leaders – instead she uses this magic to highlight the inequalities and horrific events committed in the past. Britain’s (and France’s) history of cruelty was not committed by monsters, but rather by monstrous humans and laws – and Parry perfectly captures this in her story. I truly commend her in this aspect of the plot – it really makes you think about who the true villain is.

Of course, the Vampire War, the dance between Pitt and ‘the stranger’ is a fascinating element of the story that I immensely enjoyed. I loved the look at Vampires, the magic, the manipulation and the parallels drawn between the two characters. I enjoyed how this was utilised to instigate the war between Britain and France without taking away how it really started – ‘the stranger’ uses Napoleon, but this doesn’t erase Napoleon’s own choices or decisions. I also really enjoyed the actual war scenes – from ordinary soldiers to the magic in combat to the new surprises we see used as tactical advantages – it was all very well coordinated and constructed.

Pitt and Wilberforce’s part of the story were interesting to watch as we see Wilberforce, our abolitionist, fight for the abolition of slavery – and the barriers he faces – as well as watching Pitt balances dealing with the war and the consequences of his inaction at times. From the tension and friendship between the two to their differing or similar ideals – it made the political elements incredibly interesting to read about. One thing I really liked, but have to be vague about, is how and who ultimately becomes the reason the slave trade is eventually abolished.

Napoleon’s path in the story was also interesting. Being ‘the strangers’ new target due to the loss of his other puppets in the French Revolution, this sparks an interesting dynamic. However, what we get is more than what we expected. ‘The Stranger’ is manipulative and evil, easily threatening and controlling others, but Napoleon is not so submissive. We see him make his own decisions as well as decisions that have been encouraged by the stranger. However, Napoleon’s actions are all from his own desires and intentions. Thus, this was another interesting part to the story, especially as he leads the French in the war.

Fina’s element of the story was one I enjoyed the most. Her motives are clear cut, she wants to free those enslaved in Jamaica, especially from the plantation that enslaved her. However, Fina is Toussaint’s right hand as he fights for Saint-Dominigue, and freeing those in Jamaica is not as easy as it seems. Her story follows her aiding Toussaint in his battle for independence of this island and freedom for the people on it. However, we also see her tensions with ‘the stranger’ and her fierce desire to fulfil her goals as she fights physically and verbally for the freedom of those enslaved.

We get to see more of Fina’s power too, her magic has developed, she is more in control, and we also get a lot of fantastic magic from many other female characters this time too. Despite history being very male dominated (particularly in government or in power), Parry really manages to centre a lot of strong female characters. Fina is a main character so she is the strongest example, but over the course of the book we get two incredibly powerful female side characters who are crucial to the story (though I would have liked to see more of them). Parry has crafted a clever story, with magic entwined, and has characters beyond the main men in power turning the tides of war, politics and perceptions.

There is a lot to this story, it spans a long period of time, many characters, countries and battles but it is very well constructed and comes together perfectly with magic being crucial to the plot but also an element that strengthened the spotlight on the true problems within this period of time. You are also in for a lot of surprises over the course of the story! Despite being based on real history, so we know (if you know your history) who wins/loses the wars, what policies/laws are passed, and the fates of some of the characters – Parry still manages to provide us with a sense of mystery and tension, using the magical element of her story to keep us entertained with surprises, shocks and twists.

The Characters. So I already spoke about the characters a bit but each of them are very strong in terms of their voices and the tone of their chapters. The characters all come across as realistic people (which is great since they’re based off actual people – aha), with strong motives, ideals and conflicts. Pitt is sickly, obsessive and a workaholic, one who battles constantly through politics (but makes mistakes and procrastinates on issues that will not immediately help him or what he perceives the country to need). Wilberforce is a strong idealist, pressuring for peace and the abolition of slavery, but is also devout and has strong traditional views. Fina is guarded, strong and resilient, fighting physically with magic but also attempts to do so with words. All the characters are complex, dynamic and have multiple layers to them that truly shows all the sides of humans.

The characters were all really well written, and each made the story more engaging.

Overall. A Radical Act of Free Magic, by HG Parry is a phenomenal sequel/conclusion to The Shadow Histories duology and is a perfect example of historical fantasy fiction that perfectly captures alternative history while maintaining the brutal truth behind it. This is truly a seamless blend of magic, history, fiction and reality that is powerful, political and unforgettable.


*I received a physical ARC from Orbit (Nazia) in exchange for an honest review – thank you!*


3 comments

  1. […] Book Review: A Radical Act Of Free Magic (The Shadow Histories #2), by HG Parry – Physical ARC from Orbit – ⭐⭐⭐⭐🌟(4.5 Stars) – A stunning conclusion to this epic duology. HG Parry really blew me out of the water with this magic infused historical fantasy. This was a truly epic read that explores Napoleon leading France to War with Britain and capitalises on the Vampire War that is brewing beneath it. This book twists your expectations and delivers a shocking finale. […]

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