A Radical Act of Free Magic

A Novel


By H. G. Parry

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"A rich, sprawling epic full of history and magic, Declaration is Jonathan Strange with international politics and vampires. I loved it."―Alix E. Harrow

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Radical Act of Free Magic is the conclusion to this genre-defying series of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.

The Concord has been broken, and a war of magic engulfs the world.

In France, the brilliant tactician Napoléon Bonaparte has risen to power, and under his command, the army of the dead has all but conquered Europe. Britain fights back, but Wilberforce’s own battle to bring about free magic and abolition has met a dead end in the face of an increasingly repressive government. In Saint-Domingue, Fina aids Toussaint Louverture as he navigates these opposing forces to liberate the country.

But there is another, even darker war being fought beneath the surface: the first vampire war in hundreds of years. The enemy blood magician who orchestrated Robespierre’s downfall is using the French Revolutionary Wars to bring about a return to dark magic. Across the world, only a few know of his existence, and the choices they make will shape the new age of magic.

Praise for The Shadow Histories:

"Magnificent…[turns] the part of history class you might have slept through into something new, exciting and deeply magical."―BookPage 

"A witty, riveting historical fantasy . . . Parry has a historian's eye for period detail and weaves real figures from history—including Robespierre and Toussaint L'Ouverture—throughout her poetic tale of justice, liberation, and dark magic. This is a knockout." ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The Shadow Histories
A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
A Radical Act of Free Magic

For more from H. G. Parry, check out The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep.




William Pitt the Younger was fourteen years and seven months old, and he was dying. He had been sent home from his first year at Cambridge in order to do so. He was doing his best to die well.

It had been two months since he had woken shivering with fever and racked with nausea. He had barely retained any food or water since, and he knew he was desperately weak. He could see the thinness of his own wrists, and feel how hard it was to sit up, to talk, to hold a book, and, increasingly, to breathe. During the day, he mostly kept as still as he could and pretended he didn’t even have a body; during the night, he felt stronger, but so did the throb of bloodlines in his mind, until it became difficult to think over them. He wished he could say he barely cared anymore, but he cared bitterly.

He didn’t want to die. Even now, feeling worse than he had ever felt before, he didn’t for a moment want to die. He had only just begun. It was a crisp, bright winter’s morning outside, and there were books on his desk. He wanted to live. It wasn’t fair.

The voices outside his room drifted in and out of his hearing as he dozed, so that when Dr. Addington entered quietly, he seemed to do so all at once.

“We need to talk, William,” he said.

His mind made the adjustment from rest to engagement immediately, but it took a beat and a surge of effort to communicate it to his limbs.

“Of course.” He straightened on his pillows and blinked hard to clear his haziness. His head swam. “I— Do my parents know you’re here?”

“They allowed it.” The wording was strange, as was the tone. It sounded as though they had been persuaded to allow it. And yet what was there about their family doctor’s visits to allow? Unless, of course…

Dr. Addington sat down at the bedside and looked William in the eye. “You know what’s happened to you, don’t you?” he said, without further preamble.

William nodded, and tried to look as though his heart wasn’t pounding rapidly. “Yes. I’ve come into an Inheritance late. An illegal Inheritance.”

“Blood magic. Vampirism. I know that you won’t like to say it aloud, but I’m afraid that if we’re going to talk about this, I must insist that we give it its correct term.”

Technically, only the first term was correct. Blood magic was the official classification; vampirism was an insult. William didn’t dispute the point. It would look too much like weakness. Instead, he nodded again, and this time tried not to look as though he had been flayed alive and something private and grotesque inside him had been wrenched into the light. “Of course.”

Perhaps Dr. Addington had expected a protest after all. He looked at him hard before he continued. “The abilities have settled now; that’s not the problem. The problem is that your body, in its altered state, can no longer sustain itself. It requires magic of a very particular kind. With it, you can live forever. Without it, very soon, you will starve to death.”

It was nothing he didn’t already know. He told himself this, firmly and fiercely, and so he could raise his head and look Dr. Addington in the eye. “Yes.”

“The question is,” Dr. Addington said, “do you want to live?”

“Of course I want to live,” William said. “But—”

“On what terms?”

The question made him pause. “Any that are reasonable and honorable.”

“And which do not include murder?”

“Surely you don’t need to ask me that.” He felt a chill. Dr. Addington’s voice was no longer kind, and he had never known it not to be kind.

“And legal?”

“They couldn’t be, could they?” William said evenly. “I’m not legal.”

“No,” Dr. Addington said. “You’re not, legally, human. You’re a blood magician. A vampire.”

“Please don’t,” William said, before he could stop himself.

“You agreed to use the word.”

“Yes, I know, but… please don’t use it like that.” He didn’t quite know how to explain that, however much “vampirism” hurt, “vampire”—an identity, a noun that described him and not the magic inside him—hurt more deeply yet. He would have been stronger about it usually, he hoped, but in that moment everything hurt, and so words hurt too.

“It’s what you are,” Dr. Addington said. There was certainly no kindness in his voice now. “You’re illegal, William, because your survival now depends upon the death of others. The mesmerism in your blood has awakened now, hasn’t it?”

“I haven’t touched it.”

“But it’s there.”

He didn’t answer; he didn’t have to. Of course it was. It burned in his veins, silent and secret, screaming to be used.

“And you know why, don’t you? It isn’t like other mesmerism. You know what blood magic requires.”

“Yes,” he said.

“It’s awakened to kill me,” Dr. Addington said. “Your mesmerism will hold me in place, so that I can only obey your voice telling me to hold still. Your mesmerism will hold me still while you cut my throat, or I cut it for you at your command. And when the blood spills and the light dies from my eyes, your mesmerism is what takes my magic and my life and feeds it to you. That’s what blood magic is. It’s holding another’s will in your own while they die at your hand.”

“I know,” he said, or tried to. His head throbbed.

“And do you know because you’ve read it in a book, or because you feel it?”

“Both. Please—You don’t need to tell me this. I know.”

Dr. Addington continued, relentless. “Then you know that it doesn’t stop there, with one death.”

“Stop it,” William said. “Please.”

“Vampiric mesmerism can hold entire countries in its grip, and it does. Vampires can’t stop, or at least they never do. Because it isn’t only lifeblood they crave; that’s only what they need to survive. They crave power. They always have.”

“I said, stop it.” The words burst from him, and for the first time in his life, a flare of pure mesmerism burst from the place he’d been keeping it hidden and flamed his eyes. Dr. Addington faltered, and his mouth closed. William saw it, and he didn’t stop. Blood was singing in his ears and heat was scorching his veins, and after two months of weakness and agony, he felt strong and clear and powerful. It was intoxicating.

This is it, the magic told him. This is the way you do not die.

And then, with a surge of effort, he forced it back. It was like swallowing a flame; he choked, and closed his eyes tightly as the heat drained from his limbs. All at once, he was cold and aching, and shivering with the horror of what he had done.

“I’m sorry,” he heard himself saying, and his voice seemed to have become a child’s again. He was so tired. “Please forgive me, I didn’t mean to—”

“No, I’m sorry,” Dr. Addington said unexpectedly, and William looked up in surprise. His voice was once more the gentle one he remembered. “I knew I was hurting you. I was trying to do so. I had to know that you understood what your Inheritance meant.”

He was determined not to cry now, after so many long weeks, but his eyes were stinging, and when he blinked, he felt a hot tear escape his eyelashes.

“I’m not stupid,” William said. He had never had to tell anybody that before.

“You certainly are not. But you’ve been so calm about it, every time I’ve seen you—I was concerned—”

“That I wasn’t human?”

Dr. Addington laughed shortly, which told William that the thought had crossed his mind. “Perhaps that you weren’t allowing yourself to truly think about what was happening. Or to feel.”

“I have,” he said, as firmly as he could. “Both thought and felt. I know what I have to do.”

“I know,” Dr. Addington said. “Perhaps your mother was right. She told me I was punishing you for being fourteen years old and trying to be brave.”

That, of course, was more likely to make him cry than anything else, but instead he drew a very deep breath and didn’t let it out again until he could trust his voice to be steady.

“Are you going to kill me?”

“I’m not a Templar. I’m a doctor.”

“Doctors have killed sons and daughters with illegal Inheritances in the past, to keep the family bloodlines clean on paper. It isn’t legal, but it’s perfectly acceptable. The Knights Templar make sure they’re never prosecuted.”

“I didn’t realize you knew that. If I had—” He shook his head. “When that happens—and I concede that it does—it happens at the request of the parents, while the child is an infant. Do you really think your parents would allow me to harm you?”

I am not an infant was what he knew he should have said. And we wouldn’t have to tell them. But he couldn’t say it. He hoped he could do it, if it came to it, but he couldn’t say it.

“No,” he said instead. “But… do you intend to tell the Temple Church what I am?”

“What would you say if I did?”

“I doubt they’ll give me the opportunity to say very much at all,” he said, on reflex, and Dr. Addington’s mouth quirked. “It’s your duty as a medical practitioner to report me. I wouldn’t blame you.”

Dr. Addington regarded him for a very long time. “Your father is an Aristocrat now,” he said at last. “So are you. It’s not illegal for you to possess a magical Inheritance. Your particular kind, of course, would always be illegal, and I would certainly have to report it if it ran true. But you see, I don’t believe it does, not quite. Your abilities didn’t manifest until the onset of adulthood, which isn’t usually the case with blood magic. You lived for fourteen years with no more magic than a pure Commoner. I believe there are a few things we can try, before we need to call the Knights Templar to take you away.”

His breath caught in his throat. Hope had been smothered by resolve such a long time ago and so repeatedly since, it hurt to have it break free again.

“I said ‘try,’” Dr. Addington warned quickly. “I speak of a piece of alchemy that exists only in old textbooks, one designed to take the place of lifeblood. I warn you, though, that before I hit upon the right formula, you’re likely to become a good deal more ill than you are now. It may kill you outright; it may never work at all. And if it doesn’t—”

“But if it does, I’ll be no different to anybody else?”

“Ideally, yes,” Dr. Addington said. “But, William, your abilities will still be there. If you live, then as long as that life lasts you will need to be very, very careful that the darkness inside you never gets out. And if the alchemy should cease to work, for whatever reason…”

“I understand,” William said quickly. His heart was racing again, this time joyfully; his body was too weak to sustain it, and it was making him light-headed. “Please—”

“It’s all right,” Dr. Addington said soothingly. He was rummaging in his bag, a small glass already held between two fingers. “I’m going to try my utmost.” For the first time he smiled. “Good God, William, I’ve been looking after you since the day you were born. Did you really think that I could stop now?”

“Did you?” William replied, with a very small smile.

“Sharp as ever,” Dr. Addington said, which wasn’t really an answer. “Here, drink. I’ve overexcited you, and if I don’t put it right, your heart is going to give out before you get anywhere near the elixir.”

William swallowed what was in the tiny glass obediently, making an involuntary face at the bitterness, and then accepted the much larger glass of wine that Dr. Addington held out for him in turn.

“There. Rest now. You have a very unpleasant fight ahead of you. I meant what I said earlier. If I can get the elixir to work, it won’t make you pure ungifted Commoner—or Aristocrat, I should say, now your father’s titled. You will have to make yourself that. For the rest of your life, you’ll battle not to do again what you just did to me—when someone threatens you, or hurts you, or when something important is at stake. You’ll be hiding a part of yourself until the day you die, and on that day, you’ll decide to die rather than betray the promise that you’re about to make. Do you promise to do that?”

“I promise,” William said clearly.

Dr. Addington nodded. “Anybody would make that promise,” he said. “But I’m going to trust you to keep it.”



It was after midnight in the boys’ dormitory, and Napoleone di Buonaparte was supposed to be sleeping.

The room was frostbitten and sparse, little more than a monastic cell, and the single thin blanket on each bed seemed designed only to taunt the boys with the promise of warmth. When Napoleone had arrived at the military academy four years ago, the harshness had startled him despite his best attempts to pretend otherwise: not just the bitter cold, but the hard beds, the constant hunger, the rigid discipline, the deliberate isolation from family or home or anything soft and familiar. He was used to it now. The mattress bit into his back, and he shifted only out of habit; there was never any chance of being comfortable. At fourteen, he was a dark-eyed, smoldering contradiction of temper and discipline, arrogance and ambition, intellect and athleticism, and he had never been comfortable since he had left Corsica.

And yet, after a time, perhaps he did sleep after all.

The dormitory around him grew light, as though the sun had come out; he stepped forward, wondering, and only then realized he was standing. The air was lazy with warmth and the scent of the sea and voices drifting through an open window. The room wasn’t the dormitory anymore, but a wide, spacious sitting room, with pale wallpaper and soft carpet and curtains that stirred in the faintest breeze. The furniture was graceful, elegant: a sofa of gentle blue, a clock adorned with gold, a table on which a tea set rested. He knew, without being able to say how, that there were family nearby, separated from him only by thin walls and not by a vast ocean. Napoleone’s breath caught, and his throat tightened. He knew where he was. But he had not seen it for four years. He had tried not to see it even in his dreams.

“Your home, I take it,” a voice came.

Napoleone turned sharply. Only then did he see the man standing beside the door. A tall man, slim, his face half in shadow. His light, clear voice must have spoken in Corsican, for Napoleone had no need to translate it in his head, but there was something odd about it. The sounds altered before they reached Napoleone’s ears, or perhaps they never touched his ears at all.

“It’s very pleasant,” the man added. His eyes flickered over the room. “I had a home like this once. From my room I could always hear the sea.”

Napoleone gathered every ounce of his fourteen-year-old self-possession. “Where are we?” he demanded. “I’m not at home, I know. And who are you?”

“You’re quite right, you’re not at home,” the man said. “You’re still in France, safe in your bed. This is just the inside of your head, with a little of mine thrown in for makeweight. As to who I am—well. Let’s just say I’m a friend of yours. Perhaps.”

“I don’t have friends in France.”

“No.” It might have been a question, or a statement. “Why not?”

He shrugged his thin shoulders and squared his chin. His eyes were suspiciously hot, as they never were in daylight. His childhood home was too close about him; it tugged the homesickness buried like a shard of glass deep in his heart. “I’m Corsican. I’m smaller than some of them. I don’t speak French well enough. My parents aren’t wealthy and they opposed French control. I’m barely an Aristocrat. One of those, or all of them, I don’t know. I don’t care. I’m not afraid of them.”

“Do you want them to be afraid of you?”

“I don’t care what they think of me.” It wasn’t true, and he suspected the man knew that. He wanted them to respect him. “I’m in France to learn.”

“To learn what?”

“Anything I can to become a soldier. History. Mathematics. Tactics. Magic.”

“You’re good at tactics,” the man said. “I’ve watched you at your games in the schoolyard. Your fellow students respect you then, if that comforts you. You’re not terribly strong in magic, though. I can feel mesmerism flickering in your blood, but only weakly. There’s very little you can do with it.”

“I don’t need to do anything with it. The theory is interesting enough. And besides, other people’s magic is stronger. I want to learn about it before I command men in battle. There are ways it can be used, even with the Concord.”

“Wouldn’t you like to use your own?”

“For what?” He considered his own question without giving the stranger a chance to answer. His eyes were dry again. “It’s a good pitch for animals. I suppose I could calm a frightened horse, or summon a dog with a message across a field. Tiny things like that can turn a battle at times.”

“What about on your men?”

He laughed. “I won’t need mesmerism to command my men. That’s what being a commander means.”

The stranger smiled too. For just an instant, his face came out of the shadows.

“How would you like to command more than men?” he asked. “Not today, of course. But someday.”

“It would depend.” Napoleone knew better than to put any faith in words. People said all kinds of things, all the time. Besides, he wasn’t convinced this wasn’t all a dream. But somehow, perhaps because the dream was so strange, he felt a cautious thrill. “It would depend on whom I would command, and at what cost.”

“It’s early days yet,” the stranger said. “It might come to nothing. But there’s a threat brewing over the ocean, and I might need someone to become the leader of France.”

“I’m a Corsican,” Napoleone said. “I hate France.”

His new friend nodded. “Excellent. I think you might do very nicely.”

When Maximilien Robespierre was guillotined eleven years later, Napoleone di Buonaparte was serving with the Revolutionary Army on a fact-finding mission to Genoa. He returned to Nice, only to be immediately seized as a Robespierrist sympathizer. It was his younger brother Lucien who had the strongest connections to the Robespierres, in fact—and not to Maximilien, but to his brother Augustin. His captors didn’t care. France had been a nest of informers and mutual suspicion for years; the events of 9 Thermidor had cracked it open once again, and anyone could be devoured. Napoleone was imprisoned in Fort Carré, in a room that was cold despite the sunshine outside and bare. They clamped a bracelet around his wrist that burned white-hot at the slightest flicker of magic. His mesmerism, indeed, was capable of no more than a slight flicker and could never have been used for escape. They didn’t care about that either.

Napoleone understood the Revolution’s machinations clearly, and he knew that he would certainly die. It should have frightened him, but between the royalists and his fellow revolutionaries he had been living on the point of death for a long time. He was only filled with frustrated rage that he was to die in such a stupid, passive way, before he had ever had a chance to shine in the world. He paced the cell, bringing his boots down on the hard floor with a satisfying yet impotent stamp. The cold reminded him of the dormitory at Brienne-le-Château, something that he had not thought about for many years, and that annoyed him too. At last he fell into a thin, discontented sleep, sitting on the camp bed with his back against the wall.

He was standing in his childhood home. The sun was high in the sky, and the light spilled across the floor. It hit the back of the man standing in the doorway and threw his face into silhouette.

“Napoleone di Buonaparte,” the man said. “Do you remember me?”

“Yes,” Napoleone said. He kept his voice controlled, but his face was alight with wonder. “Yes, I do. You visited me once as a child. You told me you were my friend. I thought you were a dream.”

“I am a dream,” his friend conceded. “So are you, at the moment. But we’re not only that.”

“I never thought you’d come back.”

“I wondered myself. I’ve visited others like you, you know. Many others, over the centuries, but the time has never quite been right. It seems this is the time, and you are the one.” He straightened, and the shadows altered on his face. “Come, then. We have great work to do, and great destinies to unfold.”

“I’ve been arrested as a Robespierrist,” Napoleone said. “The order’s been given for my execution.”

“Never mind that,” his friend said. “It’s time.”




In the winter of 1779, two children were born on the banks of the Thames, in the shadow of the Tower of London. Their names were Catherine and Christopher Dove, and they were of no importance at all, except to each other.

The twins shared the same dirty-blond hair, the same round pink faces. When they were little, nobody could tell them apart, except that Kate was a little stockier, and their eyes were different colors. Christopher’s were dark, and grew darker still with every passing year, while Kate’s were the bright, hard blue of the waves under a blazing sun.

There were many waves where they grew up, but not a lot of sun. They lived by the docks, in a small shack in the mud, and their father worked on one of the small boats that ferried goods to and from the big ships in the Great Pool. It was precarious work—at the busiest times, the ships were packed so tightly it was possible to cross the Thames from one deck to another. Their mother and their grandmother took in mending, and when the tide went out, Christopher and Kate would scour the banks for trinkets and bits of scrap metal to sell to bring in extra money. They were usually cold, and often hungry, but that was true of most people they knew. The other sort of people, the people they watched from the gutters as their carriages swept by on their way to shops and gentlemen’s clubs and Parliament, didn’t matter. They passed within yards of their shack at times, and yet they seemed so far away as to be practically imaginary. Kate and Christopher, if they bothered to look at the ladies and gentlemen at all, looked at them for only one reason—to see if they could spot the glint of a silver bracelet beneath their sleeves. If they didn’t see one, it could mean one of two things: that they were wealthy Commoners with no magical Inheritances at all, or that they were Aristocrats, and they were allowed to use their magic. Then they stopped and nudged each other to look. When they escaped to their hidden space beneath the old wharves, with its smell of old weed and rust, it was the only time the privileged ever entered their conversation.

“I think that one with the eyeglass was a shadowmancer,” Christopher would say. He picked up a stone and threw it into the brown water. “I felt something stir when he looked at me. I bet he has a staff of shadow-servants. I wouldn’t, if I was in his place. I’d only call shadows, not bind them. I’d only want to see them.”

Kate said nothing, only twisted the metal round and round on her own wrist where it glowed faintly warm. The waves were calling her own magic, and it had heated in response.

That was the other difference between Christopher and Kate, the one that nobody could see. They had both been identified as magicians at birth; they both wore the bracelets that would heat if their magic stirred and scream to the Knights Templar if it broke its bonds. But the magic in their veins was very different. Christopher was a shadowmancer, or would have been. Even without the use of his gifts, he was attuned to things beyond the world, to shifts and stories and dark dreams. It didn’t make him grim or solemn—he was light and playful and mercurial, laughing often, more like a sunbeam than a shadow himself. But he was sensitive, for all that, as though missing a layer of skin between himself and the world.

Kate was a weather-mage. She loved the seas and the storms, the blazing sun and the burning stars. As soon as she could walk, she wanted to be outside helping at the docks through frost and rain and wind, climbing onto the roof of their shack to watch the sunsets, wading into the Thames at low tide just for the excuse to feel the lap of the waves. It all wore her hard and tough, like tanned leather. She could work long and hard and sensibly, but her heart and her magic were as wild as the winds off the water.

She didn’t like to talk about what she would do with her magic if she were an Aristocrat and not a Commoner. It hurt too much to think about things that would never happen.

They were nine when the king went mad for the first time. It would have mattered very little to them, except that the day the Prince of Wales first called for a regency was the day that Christopher collapsed screaming on the bare-earth floor of their house. Kate was chopping carrots for her mother to put in the stew for supper; she dropped the knife at once and ran to catch her brother. His dark eyes had glazed, and the bracelet burned hot at his wrist. Around him, insubstantial shadow-forms twisted like smoke.

He wasn’t the only one. Across the country, shadowmancers had lost control of their minds or their magic. Some were taken at once to Bethlem Hospital, or arrested for illegal magic by the Knights Templar. Although no newspaper would confirm it, the whispers were that a man in Manchester had died.


  • "A first-rate blend of political drama and magic battle–action....Absolutely superb." —Kirkus
  • "A rich, sprawling epic full of history and magic, Declaration is Jonathan Strange with international politics and vampires. I loved it."—Alix E. Harrow, author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January on A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
  • "A witty, riveting historical fantasy....Parry has a historian's eye for period detail and weaves real figures from history-including Robespierre and Toussaint L'Ouverture-throughout her poetic tale of justice, liberation, and dark magic. This is a knockout."—Publishers Weekly (starred review) on A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
  • "Impeccably researched and epically written, this novel is a stellar start to what promises to be a grand new fantasy series."—Booklist (starred review) on A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
  • "It's no simple task to wrangle fifteen years of tumult in a few hundred pages, but Parry manages it with a deft hand. Her alternate history puts a human face on the titans of the past, while weaving in supernatural elements that add a whole new dimension. I stayed up well past my bedtime to find out what happens next."

    Marie Brennan, author of the Memoirs of Lady Trent series on A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
  • "Magnificent...[turns] the part of history class you might have slept through into something new, exciting and deeply magical."—BookPage on A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
  • ""I absolutely loved it. It held my attention from the beginning and throughout. It's a beautiful tapestry of words, a combination of carefully observed and researched history and a well-thought-out and fascinating system of magic. An absolute delight to read; splendid and fluid, with beautiful and complex use of language."—Genevieve Cogman, author of The Invisible Library on A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians
  • "Impressively intricate; fans of the magic-and-history of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell will be delighted."—Alexandra Rowland, author of A Conspiracy of Truths on A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians

On Sale
Mar 22, 2022
Page Count
528 pages

H. G. Parry

About the Author

H.G. Parry lives in a book-infested flat on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand, which she shares with her sister, a cat, three guinea pigs, and two over-active rabbits. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington and has taught English, film, and media studies.

Learn more about this author