THE MAGICIAN’S DAUGHTER by H. G. Parry (BOOK REVIEW)
She was a half-wild thing of ink and grass and sea breezes, raised by books and rabbits and fairy lore, and that was all she cared to be.
The Magician’s Daughter is H. G. Parry’s fourth novel, and a wonderful story of magic, conservation, and belonging, set in Edwardian Ireland and London.
Biddy is sixteen and has lived all her known life on the mythical island of Hy-Brasil, washed up on the shore one day after a shipwreck that killed her parents, and rescued by the island’s resident mage Rowan. He raised her, along with his rabbit familiar Hutchincroft, and they lived in relative safety on their magical island; a place only visible once every seven years, and long since forgotten as myth anyway. However, magic is fading from the world. Seventy years ago, the schisms that leaked magic into the world began to close. In a knee-jerk response to conserve it, the mages’ Council began to collect the magic and banned the widespread use of this now limited resource. Each night, Rowan takes the guise of a raven and leaves the island in search of more sources of magic to protect from the Council.
However, it isn’t long before the Council, and Rowan’s past, catch up with him, and Biddy is dragged from the comfort and love of her home to attempt to rescue the only family she’s ever known. She must somehow contend with the world of mages whilst lacking any magical ability of her own, and whilst a number of truths emerge that splinter everything she thought she knew about her life.
I was immediately swept away by Parry’s Hy-Brasil. Biddy’s home exuded this nostalgic, down-at-the-heels comfort that was easy to fall in love with. This island felt trapped in time, given over to nature and folklore, black rabbits and the footprints of the fair folk, where it was easy to imagine a child growing up climbing trees, being made hot chocolate by magic by her guardian. Parry’s prose is the perfect balance of being descriptive enough to carry you away into the world and immerse you, without being overly done and heavy.
Similarly, therefore, it was easy to fall in love with the curators of this world, Rowan and his familiar Hutchincroft. Hutch is a rabbit who can sometimes take human form in order to then also communicate with Biddy, but he does so rarely as it uses up magic, a precious resource that is running out. He was hands down my favourite character, caring and conscientious, and I loved how Parry portrayed so much of his personality through his movements and body language as a rabbit. In contrast to this, Rowan is impetuous and stormy, he is slippery with words to avoid conversations he’d rather not have. He is consumed by his mission to steal magic back from the Council – with less magic in the world, there are less moments of good, small miracles, that happen for ordinary folk, whose lives are becoming increasingly bleak. I very rarely imagine characters as actors or real people, I usually hate those “who would you cast in an adaptation” questions because my brain just doesn’t picture things that way. However, it struck me at one point that Rowan and Hutch reminded me of David Tenant and Michael Sheen as Crowley and Aziraphale, and then I couldn’t unsee that for the rest of the book!
Her description of magic throughout the story really captures that sense of wonder that stories such as The Chronicles of Narnia or Howl’s Moving Castle have. From a knife that can turn butter into jam, a stone that can turn you into a raven, to a library hidden within a tree, this is an indefinable kind of magic and it’s my favourite kind. It’s the kind that, when it goes wrong, can go horribly wrong and create a monster. For all the whimsy and comfort I’ve described so far, there is a healthy dollop of darkness here too, when we’re taken to the London of the start of the twentieth century and Biddy is confronted with a “real world” of hardship and poverty, where she can see how very few opportunities or chances are left for some people, and why Rowan’s task is so vital.
There was so much heart and wonder to this beautiful story, with enough danger and risk to keep me burning through the pages. H. G. Parry is a hidden gem of an author that more of you need to discover. This was an historical fantasy flavoured with folklore and whimsy that took me away, and I didn’t want to come back from.
The Magician’s Daughter is out now. You can pick up your copy on Bookshop.org