The Magician’s Daughter
Trade Paperback / eBook
Redhook, February 2023, 400 pages
Greetings, readers, and welcome back to another book review. This month’s offering is a quieter, more contemplative character study hearkening back to classic English fantasy, but lively enough to feel modern in its fairy-tale glamour, and a book I found quite delightful reading—The Magician’s Daughter by H.G. Parry.
The Magician’s Daughter begins, as most such tales do, with a leisurely introduction to our protagonist—Biddy, an orphaned survivor of a shipwreck who washes ashore the magical isle of Hy-Brasil off the coast of Ireland, itself home to a crumbling castle and hidden from the rest of the world by powerful enchantments. Raised by her adoptive father/guardian Rowan, who also happens to be a magician, along with his rabbit familiar, Hutchincroft, Biddy loves her strange little home, despite being unable to use magic herself, but lately spends her time yearning to explore the outside world and meet actual humans (rabbits being notoriously poor conversationalists, after all, and magicians being, well, erratic at the best of times). After Rowan runs into a spot of trouble, inadvertently dragging Biddy into a magical mess almost a century in the making, her wish to explore is granted, but Biddy quickly learns that the outside world is not at all like the storybooks she grew up reading.
Much like that previous paragraph, The Magician’s Daughter takes its time getting to where it wants to go, but the journey is an enjoyable one the entire way. Parry does exquisite work in letting the small spaces in her book come alive, whether it be the particular eccentricities of Hy-Brasil’s native flora and fauna, Biddy’s interactions with Rowan and Hutchincroft (along with assorted other characters met later), or even just an occasional musing that manages to condense an extremely complicated set of ideas into the kind of obvious fairy-tale wisdom that is a type of magic of its own. The entire time I was reading The Magician’s Daughter I felt like I had been completely transported to another world, one possibly best enjoyed on a cold day with a warm drink somewhere out of the elements (full disclosure, this is exactly how I read the book), and it reminded me a lot of that languid sophistication present in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, or Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.
This is not to say that The Magician’s Daughter lacks for gravitas or action, however. Parry also does an excellent job setting believable stakes for Biddy, Rowan, and Hutchincroft, and wise readers should know by now that classic fairy-tales don’t always guarantee a happy ending. Biddy’s struggle to save not just herself and her family, but also to accept that she and her world are changing in ways that she can’t always control is just as much part of the dramatic tension as showdowns with animated bone wisps or fulminous raven-man hybrids. I also particularly appreciated that the ending of the book dealt not just with the momentous clash and resolution of narrative arcs, but also with the picking up of pieces afterwards, something few fairy-tales bother to see through.
In fact, I think what stuck with me the most about The Magician’s Daughter was just how well Parry handled her protagonist’s coming of age. Teenagers are notoriously difficult to portray accurately (especially since they don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing half the time), but Biddy comes alive on the pages like very few characters I’ve read. She’s real in a way that I think will resound faithfully with younger and older readers alike, and it was very easy to cheer for her successes and be struck by her failures in a way that felt totally natural (which is also helped along by the level of care Parry devotes to the other characters in the story as well, who very much have their own wants and desires).
Overall, I think The Magician’s Daughter is a splendid piece of writing, and one that I can very much see being passed down from parent to child, or handed around a reading group as its pages become progressively more dog-eared and tattered. If you’re looking for something to recapture some magic in your life, something that touches the bit inside all of us that dreams impossible dreams, then I can’t recommend this book enough.
Read if: Sometimes you enjoy a slower-paced ride; you know family can be frustrating but they’re still family; you ever wondered if magical rabbit familiars enjoy bacon.
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