Book Review : The Magician’s Daughter

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review  : The Magician’s DaughterThe Magician’s Daughter by H.G. Parry
Published by Redhook on February 21st 2023
Pages: 384
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Source: NetGalley

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.

The Magician’s Daughter is a historical fantasy that takes place on a hidden and magical island off the coast of Ireland and sometimes in London. The island of Hy-Brasil is the only home Biddy has ever known, with Rowan the mage and his rabbit familiar, Hutch, the only family she’s ever had. Though she’s always wanted to venture into the world at large, Rowan has always claimed that it wasn’t yet the right time. But when Rowan doesn’t return from one of his secretive off-island expeditions, Biddy has to leave behind the comfort of everything she’s ever known to save not only the people she loves, but also the entirety of magic. 


“Magic isn’t there to be hoarded like dragon’s treasure. Magic is kind. It comes into the world to help. Our job is to make sure it gets to where it needs to go.”


Along the way of her first journey into the world, Biddy is forced to confront a lot of uncomfortable truths about the world at large and her father’s role in shaping it. And not only that, but Biddy finds herself facing off with the few remaining mages of the world, who have hoarded what little magic remains in the world for their own use. Unable to use magic herself, Biddy has to use everything Rowan and Hutch ever taught her to make her way in the alien world of London and to survive, the latter of which is becoming more and more difficult. 


The Magician’s Daughter presents a really interesting magical world. With barely any vestiges of magic left, Rowan, Biddy’s father figure, has devoted his life to the pursuit of stealing magic from those who hoard it and giving it to those in need. For the magic of their world is rather wild, with a will of its own, and the will to do good for those who need it. I really liked this non-traditional aspect of magic, though readers will see that there are “stoneshaper” mages and other specialties as well. I was especially enamored of the idea that many novels of Biddy’s time period had a lot of huge coincidences written into them because the world, and its authors, were still very used to the idea of magic swooping in to save the day, well, er, magically.


“Mages follow rules. So do familiars, once they’re bound. Things like the Puca, and the good folk and Hy-Brasilthey’re old magic. They’re on nobody’s side but their own, and they’ll do anything they like.”


Though there isn’t much magic left in Biddy’s world, starting the novel out in Hy-Brasil was very magical. With salty seas, old ruins, a mysterious ancient being roaming the island, and a multitude of rabbits, it feels like a very mystical and wondrous place. I would honestly love to live there with a magical rabbit friend myself. And since Biddy has never known any other home than the magical one of Hy-Brasil, she is perfectly poised to give readers a clear view of how awful the rest of the world is without that very magic. Biddy ends up living and teaching in a school for underprivileged working class girls and is absolutely horrified by how destitute both the conditions and prospects for these young girls truly are. 


Though I was already interested in the unique world of Hy-Brasil and how exactly these remnants of magic of the world worked, I was much more engrossed in The Magician’s Daughter when the Council got involved in trying to hunt down both Rowan and Biddy. One of these council members was even Rowan’s ex fiancée, Morgaine, who unlike her former paramour,  had dedicated her life to trying to find a way to reform the system from the inside of it. This seemingly puts her directly at odds with Rowan and Biddy, but there is definitely more to Morgaine than either Rowan or Biddy knows.


I found all of the characters in the novel, but especially Morgaine and Biddy, sympathetic. But though I understood their plights, I found I could never quite get attached to any of the characters. As someone who usually gets overly attached to characters, I was surprised I didn’t feel more of a connection to or a concern for them. Even Biddy, with her sheltered life away from kids her own age, which is something I could personally relate a lot to as someone who grew up very isolated as a result of living with several chronic illnesses, was not someone to whom I felt a strong or emotional attachment. Even with her love of books, reading, and longing to be part of the greater world, I just didn’t love Biddy.


“That isn’t the point! I know why the rest of the world can’t see us. I don’t understand why I can’t see the rest of the world.”


Though as I said, Biddy was in the perfect position to give social commentary on the state of London after living on the utopia of Hy-Brasil, I couldn’t help but to find her a bit annoyingly hypocritical. It was like the moment she left her charmed life on the island and saw what the world was really like—requiring her to wear rattier, ill-fitting clothes, and to eat crummier foods—she wanted to go back home immediately to the life she so despised before. While this is probably a very human, or at least, a peak teenager thing, her attitude and her preoccupation with the more superficial aspects of her journey didn’t really endear her to me.


Even though I understand that The Magician’s Daughter was merely trying to illustrate what a big difference in lifestyles it was, to the point of really being cultural adaptation, I don’t feel as if Biddy had a big enough reckoning about how great her life was at home to make up for her bratty behavior. It didn’t help that her coworker and fellow teacher Anna, immediately points out how they’re both orphans and down on their luck, and Biddy guiltily just lets her believe this spin, knowing that she’s actually come from a much better life. I know it’s for the sake of Biddy’s mission, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. Later on, Biddy’s big realization is less about her charmed life, and more about how important magic truly was to the world. I think this did the character a disservice, but did match with the theme of the entire novel, which is that everyone needs and deserves a little magic in their lives.


The other characters were similarly one-dimensional. Rowan is a reformed cocky upstart mage who has devoted his life to his outlaw, Robin Hood-like status and Morgaine is the betrayer, who may or may not be so bad. Hutch, the rabbit familiar who can transform into a human sometimes, is loyal to the core and incredibly knowledgeable about magic and always able to perfectly advise Biddy on how to proceed. Storm, who’s real name I can’t even remember, is the thuggish one of the two villains of the book. The true mastermind is worse than perhaps anyone realized—manipulative, cunning, and utterly unconcerned about the state of the world at large or anyone’s well-being as long as he has enough magic for himself.  


“She had seen the world, and the world needed magic. Whatever Rowan had lied about, knowingly or otherwise, he was right about that. She knew that now, perhaps even more surely than he did, because she was precisely one of those ordinary human creatures who would never normally have known magic existed and yet missed it desperately.”


Despite the fact that I couldn’t truly get attached to the characters, who seemed little more than roles for the story, I really did like the overall idea of The Magician’s Daughter and delighted in its portrayal of untamable magic. I thought it was such a unique take to have magic seeping out from rifts from other worlds and to have young mages enter these rifts to acquire a familiar. I was truly enchanted by the world of Hy-Brasil as well, and adored all of the page time with the púca, who seems to be some sort of trickster being. Though The Magician’s Daughter never got into the nitty gritty details of how exactly the magical system works, such as how spells are cast, or how rifts open into the world, or magical items are forged, in the case of this novel, half of the fun is in the mysterious nature of this world’s magic.


I found The Magician’s Daughter to be a bit slow in the beginning, but it does pick up a lot in the second half of the book. Even though I very much enjoyed the historical fantasy setting and different take on magic itself, I just didn’t feel very attached to the characters. Despite that, I liked The Magician’s Daughter enough that I would definitely try reading more of author H.G. Parry’s books to see if those worked better for me in the future. 


I recommend The Magician’s Daughter to fans of Charlie N. Holmberg .


Book Review : The Magician's Daughter - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 8, 2022 in Book Reviews, Fantasy

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