Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. ★★★★
Sorcerer to the Crown is an alternate history fantasy novel set in Regency England. Magic is running low in England, and many pin the blame on an easy target – Zacharias Wythe, the first ever Royal Sorcerer to be an African. Zacharias has to navigate political difficulties, a situation involving Malaysian witches, and find a way to return magic back to England. In this effort, he’s added by Prunella Gentleman, a mixed race women with prodigious magical abilities of her own. It is one of those rare books that manages to deal with such difficult themes as institutionalized oppression but remain an overall fun and charming read.
The comparisons to Susana Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell are inevitable. Both are books about magicians and fairies in Regency era England. Both deal with returning magic to England. Both explore the ideas of who is allowed access to magic. While there are similarities between the two, I’d say that Sorcerer to the Crown is it’s own book. People who like Clarke’s book might like Cho’s, but people who hated Clarke’s book might love Cho’s, especially given the differences in tone and writing style. Sorcerer to the Crown is a much more accessible book that never takes itself too seriously. The result is delightful.
I might go anywhere and do any magic I pleased if I were Peter, not Prunella.
Society in Sorcerer to the Crown deems magic to be a fit career only for gentlemen. They ignore the lower class people who practice magic and expound upon the dangers of female magicians, whose bodies are “too frail” to hold the necessary magic. Both our protagonists are excluded from the qualification of “gentlemen” and face many struggles as a result.
Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking,” said Zacharias severely.
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Prunella, pleased.
Characterization was overall well done, but only Prunella really stole my heart. I love Prunella! She is smart and determined, a force to be reckoned with. While she cannot imagine living without her magic, Prunella does not at first see any point in studying it. She grew up at a school for gentlewitches, where young women are taught to repress their magical abilities. She’s seen the results of what happens to women with magic, and she thinks the only path to success in life for a woman is marriage. Especially for Prunella, a half-Indian girl stuck between classes, this seems her only chance.
Prunella took to the ballrooms of London in the spirit of ruthless calculation of a general entering a battlefield.
It surprises me just how quickly I read Sorcerer to the Crown. It’s a middling sized fantasy book, just under four hundred pages, and yet I read it in less than twenty four hours. It wasn’t so much the plot that drew me in but the characters and world that Cho had created. This is a truly excellent debut novel. Oh, and as a bonus, there’s dragons!
I give Sorcerer to the Crown a strong recommendation, particularly for anyone who likes fantasy of manners, historical fiction, or diverse characters. However, Sorcerer to the Crown should really appeal to anyone looking for an engaging book that will make them smile.
Side note – This is my 200th review! Also, I read this book as part of Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe Event. Go check it out!