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Sorcerer Royal #1

Sorcerer to the Crown

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Magic and mayhem collide with the British elite in this whimsical and sparkling debut.

At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.

But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

371 pages, Paperback

First published September 1, 2015

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About the author

Zen Cho

54 books2,362 followers
I'm a Malaysian fantasy writer based in the UK. Find out more about my work here: http://zencho.org

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,874 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews155k followers
December 9, 2020
It's never a good sign when it takes well over 150 pgs to get the story started....really...truly not.

This book dragged.

Nothing really worked for me. Nothing. If I could get that time back, I would. I want it back so much.

THE PREMISE - aka not a bad start

The British elite conquest consist of magicians (called thaumaturges) who are racist, sexist and all have all sorts of petty, bullying behavior. They are all jerks.

And they are all pissed.

Why? The new Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, inherited the position based on his magic, talent and intellect...oh and he happens to be a former freed slave. The nerve of him.

Despite none of them (seemingly) owning slaves, they are pissed that he manages to conduct magic despite being so "inferior."

Annnnnnnnnnd, then there's the other elephant in the room.
"We are a laughingstock - a nation of hundreds of enchanters, and nothing to enchant with."
So there's another reason to hate Zarcharias. The magic is drying up and the Sorcerer Royal can't magically fix it.

Oh. And there's one other reason to hate him.
Nothing disgusted a thaumaturge so much as a witch
He visits what passes as a school for witches, and finds one far stronger than he ever expected.

Essentially - everyone hates Zarcharias but they hate Prunella Gentleman even more because she's dark AND she is a woman AND she's a insanely powerful witch.

In addition...okay I'm bored. That's all the summary I want to do.

The premise does sound good. There's so few YA books with people of color at the forefront and it has a strong female lead to boot.

So...you may be asking, what went wrong?

Glad you asked.

THE WRITING - aka are we there yet? No? What about now???
She was no great reader, and her choice was written in so laborious a style that that she found herself rereading the same page several times, without absorbing any of the sense.
It took AT LEAST four times as long to say anything in this book. FOUR. TIMES.

Why? Because the author is attempting to this pseudo old-timey British-Victorian language - super posh, formal and rigid...and good lord. It took FOREVER
There was so much bowing and kowtowing, politic rhetoric and pleases-and-thank-yous that I just couldn't stand it. It was maddening.

THE FEMINISM - aka put a ring on it
"I understand Miss Gentleman will venture to find herself a husband, and only desires assistance in gaining access to the best society.
Essentially, Prunella spends the first half of the book as an obstinent young woman.

She can do magic. She knows what she wants and she will get it in a time where women were NEVER expected to do anything but suppress any and all individuality.

It may take her seven or eight sentences to make her point but by-gosh, she will burst through that glass ceiling.

Then, Prunella flipped like a dime.

The inconsistency bothered me so much. Don't get me wrong, I am all for a strong female lead who also wants to get married.

My issue comes from the way it happened.

One minute, she's all for education and empowerment... and literally the next page, she's asking if she can find a husband and settling down - claiming it's all she wanted all along.

No character development, no explanation, no hint at all that she even wanted to get married

It was matchmaking time and woe be the stuffy English jerk who stood in her way.
It seems impossible these days to find any truly pretty girls; it makes even a dark little thing like Miss Gentleman seem a phoenix."
...which brings us to my last point:

THE STRUGGLE - aka everyone was a needless jerk because reasons.
"Magicians are obstinate creatures, but they can be persuaded, and they esteem power above all things."
Okay, so I'm all for a book that rips down stereotypes and empowers people.

I love it when the underdog climbs to the top and shows up all the naysayers and disbelievers...but that didn't happen.

The book set everything up with Zacharias (despite being brilliant) at the bottom of the pack. He spent his entire childhood dealing with rampart racism and is now expected to lead a bunch of racist a**hole magicians

Then, there was Prunella, arguably lower than the low (despite having ungodly powers). She dealt with rampart sexism and racism and decides to rise above it.

Everywhere we looked was society showing its ugly side...and amazingly powerful (and/or) perfect characters who must fight to the top.

It could have been the language, or the setting (very dry despite the magic)...but I just didn't care enough to want to see it fixed.

The author didn't create a world that could be changed easily without decades of hard effort and I don't want to stick around for that.

When I read something, I don't want to read 100 pages of this jerk saying so-and-so can't do blank because of her womanly weaknesses - only to see her prove him wrong.

THEN he finds the next issue to latch on to (and to be proven wrong again) (and again) (ang again).

It was frustrating to read and disappointing that throughout the book, we were just hitting our heads at (literally) the same exact issues.

Over. And. Over.

For hundreds of pages.

Overall - aka thankgawdthistortureisover

I didn't feel connected to any of the characters. The ones that were likable were so high-falutin with their words that I couldn't stand them.

The feminism felt like a joke - a character flips her personality like a switch and conveniently, the plot gains several feet of progression.

And the whole world was so frustratingly obstinate that I celebrated as soon as the book was over.

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Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,258 reviews8,705 followers
August 18, 2016
Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

I tried to read SORCERER TO THE CROWN by Zen Cho THREE separate times, and had pretty much given it up for lost when I decided to give it one . . . more . . . chance.

Many, many thanks to friend and fellow Ace Roc Star Anne at The Book Nympho , whose review influenced this decision. *tips hat*

The beginning is slow, no getting around it. Even if I hadn't been reading mostly high-octane, action-packed urban fantasy in the weeks prior to my first attempts, I think I still would have found it slow.

I was initially reminded of a Jane Austen novel.

You: But you LOVE Jane Austen!
Me: Yes, I know.
You: ???
Me: I love Jane Austen, despite the florid prose, not because of it.

BUT. Given time, this book grew on me for the same reasons EMMA and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE did: clever hilarity and exasperating yet wonderful characters whom I grew to absolutely adore.

And BONUS, there is the kind of whimsicality that can only be present in a FANTASY novel.

Zacharias Wythe is not a white, land-owning man in something like 19th century England. He was adopted and emancipated by Sir Stephen Wythe, Sorcerer to the Crown, and his presence in society is met with both acceptance and ridicule by the peerage, and:

Though he had never doubted his guardian’s attachment, being Sir Stephen’s protégé had at times felt like being a touring attraction—a dancing bear on its lead.

And how easy it is to blame one whose existence you already disdain for problems almost certainly not of his doing.

Like the steady decline of magic in England? Who better to hold accountable than the new Sorcerer to the Crown? Especially when it so neatly provides a solution to the problem that is the new Sorcerer to the Crown?

But regardless of continuous and varied mistreatment at the hands of other thaumaturges, Zacharias is determined to discover the source of England’s lack of magic as his station demands, and during this search he also discovers the plight of gentlewitches.

Well-bred ladies do not practice magic, you see. If a young lady is discovered to have any magical ability at all, she is shipped to a boarding school where her use of magic will be stamped out.

It is in one such school that Zacharias stops as a favor to a friend, only to find that the method of suppressment is an altered version of a KILLING CURSE, modified to be cast by a lady on HERSELF, draining her magic temporarily, along with her energy and essential spark.

Zacharias is predictably horrified (b/c not a stuffy, pompous wanker like his sorcerer brethren).

And it was at Mrs. Daubeney's School for Gentlewitches that things started to pick up.

I began to see hints, not carbon copies, mind you, but hints of well-loved characters from various girlhood favorites, most notably in Mrs. Daubeney, who when vexed behaves in a rather Mrs. Bennett-like fashion:

"You ought to have considered me, but no one ever does, and it puts me in an impossible position!”


Then there's the scene of utter pandemonium that somehow manages to combine early ANNE OF GREEN GABLES Anne:

Henrietta stamped her foot, her grey eyes drowned in green light.
“I will teach you a lesson for that!” she cried. “How dare you call him my precious Mr. Wythe! How dare you say I am in l-love!”


With those wretched Pringles she doesn't encounter until several books later:

When Prunella entered the classroom, Clarissa Midsomer was trying to bang Emily Villiers’s head against a desk. Emily was resisting this, screeching in a manner fit to bring the ceiling down.


(I couldn't find a good picture of the Pringles or of the classroom in chaos after the fireworks were set off, but this one works just as well, I think.)

Fairyland resembled a combination of Bedknobs and Broomsticks ' underwater and king of the jungle segments.

Flanked by fish-faced guardsmen, the Fairy King lounged upon his throne . . .


YES. That is fantastic.

Resemblances, purposeful or accidental, aside, were not the only amusements, and I found myself shaking with laughter on more than one occasion, be it the result of a formidable aunt named Georgiana Without Ruth (<------get it? Ruthless? *snickers*), or his fairy Highness explaining why England's magic is being shunted elsewhere (but don't worry, not to France. They don't like France any better than England does):

“It would be an end to all peace if they returned,” he said, with a sigh. “We should give them our first-born child if that would persuade them to stay away. Indeed, we made the offer, but they would not look at poor Cuthbert."

Poor Cuthbert.

BUT. As much as SORCERER TO THE CROWN made me laugh, there is so much more to it than humor. Peppered throughout the story are painful truths:

To her surprise Prunella found that she was still attached to Mrs. Daubeney. She would never trust her again—no! But one could nonetheless be very fond of someone in whom one had no confidence whatsoever.

When Prunella at last listened to the full message contained in the singing orb, I found myself in tears, and there is an Elizabeth and Darcy scene so spectacular as to give its namesake a run for its money.

Maybe you didn't hear me: there is an Elizabeth and Darcy scene so spectacular as to give its namesake a run for its money.


SORCERER TO THE CROWN by Zen Cho was fantabulous. Plain and simple. I'm so glad I didn't let a slow start derail my consumption of one of the best books I've read this year, and I hope you'll read it for yourself, b/c it's just that good. Highly recommended.

Jessica Signature
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
September 10, 2015
Not at all what I expected! And it was great!

From the cover art, the title, and the length of the book I was expecting a weighty, Asia-tinged fantasy epic. Nope!

It may be long - but I zipped through it in a day. And - it's hilarious.
As the comments below indicate, yes, comparisons with Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell' are unavoidable. The settings are very similar: an old-timey London inhabited by a society of stuffy and aristocratic magicians. There are also incursions of Fairyland, and in addition, both prominently feature a former slave who dramatically rises in society. However, this is a much less serious work. Although not unsophisticated, it's less fussy - and much more romantic. I'd say: imagine if Susanna Clarke's writing met Gail Carriger's. I have to say though, I enjoyed this better than either - it hit my sweet spot.

Our two main characters:

Prunella is an orphaned assistant at a girls' school. Abandoned by her British father; her Indian mother known only by the tint she imparted to her daughter's skin, she is dependent on the headmistress for her living. She has a deal of magical talent - unfortunately, in this England, girls are not considered to have a constitution suitable for the use of magic, and schools such as this one, for gentlewitches, are devoted solely to preventing the young women from using their skills. (Of course, people tend to look the other way when servants use magic to accomplish their menial tasks.)

Zacharias is the titular Sorcerer to the Crown. Unfortunately, his occupation of the post of head sorcerer in Britain is a matter of some controversy. A black man and a former slave, he is not quite the aristocrat his fellow magicians want as their leader. Plots to depose him are already being fomented.

Although Zacharias' position is already unstable, politics and disasters wait for no one. The magic of England seems to be draining away, and no one is sure why. In addition, a Sultan and a 'foreign witch' from Janda Baik (a small Malaysian island) are at each others' throats and both threaten to drag England into a conflict overseas.

But when the Sorcerer is imposed upon to give a speech at a girls' school, he meets Prunella - and from there, events proceed in a merrily headlong, roller-coaster type fashion.

Thoroughly delightful.

Many thanks to Ace and Net Galley for the opportunity to read this excellent book. As always, my opinions are solely my own.
Profile Image for Lois Bujold.
Author 185 books37.7k followers
June 23, 2021

Being in some measure a Georgette Heyer pastiche (and critique), this had enough humor and wit embedded to suit my current reading needs. Continues the Regency-with-magic subgenre started back in the 80s with Sorcery & Cecelia; or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Stevener and Wrede; if one liked that (which I did), here's more. Inventive magic and background, an appealingly earnest magic-geek hero with major problems in his lap, some obvious, some only gradually revealed.

Ta, L.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
October 7, 2017
I picked up Sorcerer to the Crown because I heard it was strikingly reminiscent of one of my favourite fantasy books, the wonderful Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Suasana Clarke.

Such a thing is this book’s greatest asset and also its downfall. Perhaps my rating of this would have been slightly higher had I read first. Though when reading all I saw was how the book had drawn from a much better book. Cho’s setting and world building are adequate, but again I was imagining them in relation to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Both books deal with English magic during the time of the Napoleonic wars and the regency period. Magic is seen as improper in the stuffy society of the early nineteenth century; it is frowned upon and drastically misunderstood.

Is it too similar?

In Clarke’s novel Stephen is the black house-servant of Sir Walter Pole. He has descended from slaves, and though not part of the system, he is very much a second class citizen. Zacharias Wythe, from Cho’s novel, is a black sorcerer in a society that deems him inferior. I feel like Cho has essentially read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and asked herself a question: what would happen if Stephen was also a magician? And this is the book that answers the situation. An African sorcerer is at the head of the English magic society in an all too familiar world.

Cho attempts to write in dated prose; she attempts to infuse modern prose with that of Austen. Clarke did the same with an absolute brilliant level of execution. She even produced a typical three-volume novel to add to this effect. Cho’s attempt is sloppy with distinctively modern words and phrasing being set against older expressions. The result is uneven writing that dances between being accessible to younger readers and being a pastiche. All in all, it just was not written with the same level of skill and attention to detail that Clarke displayed.

Clarke is just SO much better!

Sorcerer to the Crown certainly isn’t a terrible book, but for me it will always exist in the shadow of a much greater book: one that I wanted to stop reading this one for. The parallels are far too strong. Perhaps all this is merely coincidental and the writers just had similar ideas for the setting of a novel, though even so Clarke handles her book with more skill. Her characters are charming and very complex individuals. I love the way she based her two magicians on Wordsworth and Coleridge with magic replacing the arguments they had over poetry.

If you have read Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell then you will possibly hate this for its bland attempt at similar ideas. However, if you have not read it, you may find some enjoyment here.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
September 11, 2015
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum http://bibliosanctum.com/2015/09/11/b...

So many comparisons have already been made to describe Sorcerer to the Crown, and I’m going to chime in too with “This feels like epic fantasy for fans of Gail Carriger.” Zen Cho has created a world here that’s reminiscent of Austen meets Tolkien, yet at the same time it’s so wonderfully adaptable that pigeonholing this book into any one category makes it feel a bit remiss.

A Regency setting is what you will get though, even if the nature of the style and story is up for debate. “Fantasy of manners” is also a subgenre that frequently crops up in discussions of novels like this, with a focus on a rigid set of expectations within a hierarchical societal structure. One of the protagonists in Sorcerer to the Crown is Zacharias Wythe, the first black sorcerer in Britain who also holds the highest office in his profession, a fact that makes him the target of much opposition and bigotry from many of his so-called “socially-refined” peers who feel that a freed slave should not have risen so far above his station.

Institutional racism and oppression is a real menace in this story, even overshadowing the threats of war from France, the dwindling magical resources of England, and the political entanglements involving the matter of witches and belligerent visiting diplomats. In spite of all that’s going on, Zacharias’ greatest enemies end up being his own neighbors and fellows. Already plagued with ugly rumors surrounding the death of his predecessor and adoptive guardian, now it seems someone has decided to go even further by attempting to murder Zacharias. Just when he thinks life couldn’t get complicated enough, along also comes Prunella Gentleman, a mixed-race young woman of considerable thaumaturgical power, and Zacharias takes it upon himself to mentor her in a society where women using magic is considered anathema.

The fleeting mention of Prunella in the book’s blurb actually belies the huge role that she plays. While I adored Zacharias, to me it was Prunella who stole the show as the star of the novel with the sheer force of her personality. In every proper situation she somehow still manages to find a way to throw expectations back into the scandalized faces of those who naively thought they could use tradition to keep her in line. It was also very entertaining to see how often she bends etiquette to her advantage, wielding it as a weapon rather than letting it restrict her (as evidenced by a particularly hilarious scene where she proposes the use of gossip and rumor as a way to actually deflect potential damage to her reputation). I loved her for her frankness and her thoroughly unbreakable spirit, and because she is strong, ruthless, and determined – in other words, the opposite of everything the small-minded folks in this book say about women magicians.

I was also surprised at how light-hearted this novel was, some of its weightier themes notwithstanding. I definitely don’t claim to be an expert in Regency fiction or books of this type, but it’s my understanding that a particular style of humor is frequently employed and that it could be quite tricky to pull off. For what it’s worth, I thought the author nailed it. There’s some genuine wit in here, subtle but also infused with that certain Austenesque charm. That said, I wouldn’t exactly call Sorcerer to the Crown an easy read, especially if you’re not use to the style, which I’m personally wasn’t. I confess to having a difficult time at the beginning of the novel while adjusting to the writing, which I thought it was a little hard on the eyes and it made reading slow. But eventually I did get into it, as you can see; once I reached a point where I could enjoy myself and start appreciating its cleverness and nuances, this novel was a pure joy.

Zen Cho crafts her setting with much love and care, evoking the Regency era and all its punctilious social arrangements but also manages to seamlessly weave in romance, adventure and political intrigue – and I haven’t even gotten the chance to mention the magic and all the fantastical creatures yet. Dandy socialites, posh boarding school matrons and quarreling politicians share this wonderfully unique world with fairies, dragons and magicians. It is a truly delightful alternate history where magic is an integral part of life.

You really can’t ask for more. Sorcerer to the Crown is a deftly written novel that thoroughly explores important issues, adding further depth to a story already rich with memorable characters and a pleasantly entertaining plot. Zen Cho is a new fantasy novelist who is immediately going on my list of authors to watch, and I’m looking forward to her next book in this series.
Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews1,984 followers
October 16, 2015
Delightful books are delightful.

I am completely, utterly enamoured with Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho’s first novel. A wonderful and charming book that pays homage to Regency romances and Fantasy novels at the same time that interrogates some of the problematic aspects of those genres in regards to race and gender. It’s like this book was written for me.

Zacharias Whyte is a freed slave and a talented magician who just so happens to have recently become Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers of Britain. His fellow magicians are not exactly happy about it because Zacharias is not only a black man and not exactly a gentleman but also the events surrounding his mastery of the Sorcerer Royal’s Staff (that only answers to the One True SR) are shrouded in mystery. WHAT exactly happened that night, everybody wonders. And so the magicians and sorcerers whisper and gossip and plot behind Zacharias’ back because that is the polite thing to do, as we know. Microagressions are always the way to go too. And Zacharias knows everything about those.

Within the story, there is a truth universally acknowledged that:

England’s scarcity of magic was a matter of common knowledge among the magical.

What with the magic no longer freely flowing from fairyland and the number of familiars declining to the point where no magician has even seen a familiar in ages. The familiars are magical creatures from fairyland that devote their lives to the service of a magician (at a Great Cost) who is then considered a sorcerer. This is the Right and Proper way of doing things, of course.

But ANYWAYS, the lack of magic is terrible and the magicians have been anguishing over that and trying to hide it from the Government because magic and the status quo are directly connected and even though the Sorcerer Royal should be independent from politics this is really Zacharias being completely naïve and a fool for believing that POWER is as uncomplicated as that.

And here is the funny thing about this so called scarcity of magic: because if you move your eyes away from London and the Unnatural Philosophers and the gentlemen and look at other places – like the school for gentlewitches where “inconveniently magical daughters” are sent to learn restraint because women’s bodies and little brains simply can’t cope with magic as everybody knows – you will see magic abounds, really. But inappropriate magic doesn’t count.

“Shameless, impudent, meddling females, who presumed to set at naught the Society’s prohibition on women’s magic, and duped the common people with their potions and cantrips!”

HAHAHA. This book, it is awesome. Because that’s the setup and we know that something awesome is going to happen to disprove that. Like have a myriad of different women from all over the world, doing amazing things from heroism to villainy – the women are the ones to move the plot along, and to sort out all the problems.

Zacharias Whyte, SORCERER ROYAL: secondary character.


Enter Prunella Gentleman. WOMAN.

An orphaned, mixed race, half-Indian WOMAN.

Who has more magic in her little finger than many gentlemen in their entire bodies. Who knows how to wield such magics in ways that are preposterously dangerous, completely outrageous and incredibly cool.

Prunella, who has something like a thousand familiars. OK, I exaggerate but this is an important point because of the ways that it’s all connected to history, power and family.

Prunella Gentleman who has the guts and fortitude to do anything to get what she wants. And those who dare stand in the way and tell her she can’t because of her gender?

Prunella is all like: I shall do what I please, SIR. *saves England*

Prunella had once thought life in London would be all flirting and balls and dresses, hitting attentive suitors on the shoulder with a fan, and breakfasting late upon bowls of chocolate. She sighed now for her naïveté. Little had she known life in London was in fact all hexes and murder and thaumaturgical politics, and she would always be rising early for some reason or other!

Prunella, incorrigible busybody. Who meets Zacharias and then nothing will ever be the same again. And I just love the dynamics between Zacharias and Prunella and even though the romance is an obvious (but super welcomed) development, the subtlety of it is delicious especially in how Zacharias is anything but ambitious while Prunella could easily run the universe. An example of an interaction between them:

Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking,” said Zacharias severely. “Yes, isn’t it?” said Prunella, pleased.

“Said Prunella, pleased”.

*_* Prunella Gentleman, you are my patronus.

When talking about the book and its inspirations and influences, Zen Cho most commonly mentions Susannah Clarke and Georgette Heyer’s regencies but there is one work that I thought about the most when reading Sorcerer to the Crown. In many ways I think this book is in direct conversation with another sensational read from earlier this year, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, especially with the way that both novels examine the relationship between power and class, between power and the social strata which inevitably places women in a subordinate position within the status quo. Both books question and subvert this really well and look at the ways that women create and wield magic. Both books converse with feminism and with topical issues within SFF and they are both incredibly light, delightful, charming and friendly in ways that we don’t usually see in mainstream Fantasy.

This has been an incredible year for reading so far. Sorcerer to the Crown is another favourite and a strong top 10 contender.
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews4,025 followers
December 23, 2015
This review originally appeared on my blog, Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda Books.

Man, I hope the writer of this book was cackling as she wrote this. That's how I pictured her, especially as the book wore on, just sitting there, rubbing her hands and laughing as she typed, going, "Ooooh, I know what I'll do to them now!" I mean, that's what I would have been doing as I wrote this. I don't know if I could have restrained myself, because I would have been very pleased with just how clever I was. Maybe she could restrain herself, because doubtless she is less shocked about how great she is- I don't know. But anyway, I hope that gives you an idea of the spirit of the thing, because that's the best part of it.

I have to be honest, I wasn't quite sure about this one when I started. The tone seemed forced, like someone who had studied a great deal of Jane Austen and read a lot of Regency romances and was painstakingly trying to recreate the sentence structure, with the result that her characters sounded a good deal more wooden than they should (even the excellent concept of a protagonist- Zacharias Wythe, the somewhat hapless, well meaning Sorcerer Royal the book focuses on). And then of course, there was all the exposition to get set up and getting our protagonists, heretofore with no reason to be anywhere near each other, together. That part was okay- I kept going more for the concept than anything else- magic is commonplace in England, there's a whole long standing structure of magicians and familiars in place, it's tied up with politics and acknowledged as A Thing, but very much tied into an otherwise recognizable Regency society that can't be bothered to be that impressed (too busy being impressed with the knots in their cravats, obviously). You guys know that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is one of my favorite books, right? I couldn't love this concept more. I was going to stick around until the end (especially since it was clearly going to deal with some racial and class issues that simmered under the surface in that one in a more blatant way, and there were some cleverly placed unanswered mystery breadcrumbs placed out early on- well done, Cho.)

But then I hit what my kindle told me was about 40%. Remember how I told you guys reading JS&MN and losing patience to just hang out for Strange? Same damn thing here. Then Strange showed up and things got amazing pretty quickly and never got less amazing until the last page. I laughed out loud once, then twice, and then traded gasping and laughing for a sustained period pretty much almost until the end.

Okay, so basic plot: Zacharias Wythe is the Sorcerer Royal, like I told you above- but he inherited his position from his mentor and father figure, Sir Stephen Wythe, in suspicious circumstances that were never quite explained. He is clearly the most powerful magician living, so, as yet, he still holds the staff of office- but there is a louder and louder rebellion stirring amongst England's magicians about his leadership (not helped, of course, by the fact that this is the early 1800s and Zacharias is of African birth and appearance and some Englishmen don't like acknowledging that any "foreigner" can do anything better than they can- hey- actually, maybe this isn't just because it's the early 1800s. Ringing some bells). This situation is only made more precarious by the fact that England seems to be in the process of losing the plentiful magic it once had, and has been for decades. No new magical creatures or familiars have appeared, and the borders to Fairy have been slowly, but inexorably closing.

Enter Prunella Gentleman, aka my new fictional best friend. She works at a magical school for young ladies where they are mostly taught to hide their gifts and pretend like magic doesn't exist (think of it like one of those boarding schools where rich people send embarrassing daughters who get pregnant young or show signs of mental health difficulties). She has lead a precarious life on the sufferance of someone who took her in- but then, early in the novel, she makes a discovery that changes her entire life and throws her in the path of Zacharias- leading to life-altering consequences for both of them. The surprise is so good and her course of action is so audacious and amazing I don't want to even hint at it, but suffice it to say that it leads to them making an amazing team in more ways than one.

Aside from the wonderful plot and an outstanding cast of supporting characters in the best Regency farce fashion, (Rollo! Damerell! Aunt Georgiana!) what's really wonderful in the back half of the book is Cho's increased confidence and ability to handle the tone, dialogue and rhythms of the genres that she's paying homage to- both Regency farce and epic fantasy. She really does a great job with ramping up the ridiculousness to just the right volume, while never quite forgetting the serious threats that underlie all of this conflict.

(BTW-Man, I hope this book is an indication that this mixed genre is here to stay. Can I just make up one of these cool new subgenre names for it to help marketers? "Bonnet fantasy"? "Carriage-wheels-and-magic-wands fantasy"? Hmmmm. Come on guys, we have to be able to come up with something to encourage people to do this more.)

Not to mention the serious girl power in this book. Prunella, my new BFF, is, as I mentioned, utterly fantastic, and I love the way the author goes about showing that to us. She never needs her to be admired and stared at as the belle of the ball (at least not more than briefly, before something goes terribly wrong), she doesn't need her to necessarily be Mary Sue. She just needs her to be determined, clever, to know what she wants and not be afraid of stating it (whether it's "feminine" or "feminist" or not), and of course to be a whole lot of fun. Although Zacharias is our ostensible hero, and so much of the book is from his point of view- and he really does a great job of playing the straight man and the tragic hero we want out of our epic fantasies, Prunella is really the true farcical heart of the novel- she gives it life and insanity and the heart palpitations we want out of an adventure. I told you guys, she's Strange- but way funnier, more self-aware, but just as ferocious when she needs to be. There's some pitiless stuff in here, and she's nobody's perfect heroine, and man, does she screw up, but it's enjoyable from beginning to end.

I was never more delighted than when I saw, in parentheses after the title, that this was only Sorcerer Royal #1- which hopefully means there's more to come. I don't think it's spoiler-y of me to say that I want to see how Prunella continues her reign of terror and mayhem in the next book and who she shocks to their core next.

I am sorry I was ever wary of this, anyone who ever recommended this to me! More fool I, please be as smug as you like! You deserve it.
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books433 followers
February 6, 2022
"Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking," said Zacharias severely.
"Yes, isn't it?" said Prunella, pleased.

So What's It About?

Zacharias Wythe is Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers, an esteemed position that he has a tenuous hold on because of the racist pushback he faces from the rest of the society. On top of this, the stores of magic in England are drying up and no one knows why. While dealing with all of this, Zacharias happens to cross paths with Prunella Gentleman, a devious young woman with extreme magical power. They are soon entangled in a mess of intrigue and danger that will change the course of magic in England forever.

What I Thought

Sorcerer to the Crown is a remarkable debut novel, emulating the style of a Regency era novel with great success. I have read a few other books in this style, most significantly Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and Sorcery and Celia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot. While Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell fully immerses itself in historical minutiae and archaic details and Sorcery and Celia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot puts the most emphasis on Austenian-style romance, Sorcerer to the Crown finds something of a middle ground. There is a touch of romance, but it is mostly interested in exploring the prejudices and power dynamics of the Regency era through the metaphor of magic. It manages to balance its astute social commentary with charming wit and grace, a feat that would make Austen proud. Add to this two complex and compelling lead characters in Prunella and Zacharias and you've got a winner for sure.

Sorcerer to the Crown features an excellent treatment of magic in a historical setting, because it argues that magic would be no different from any other form of power in its misuse, corruption and propagation of entrenched prejudices. In this book we see how the sorcerers of England attempt to use magic as a tool of colonialism, racism and sexism. The matter of racism is explored through both Zacharias's and Prunella's stories, as Zacharias was born a slave and Prunella is half Indian.

Zacharias's life is dictated by the ways other delegitimize him because of his skin color - he is constantly doubted, disrespected and ultimately threatened and endangered because he is a man of color in power. I think his story goes a long way towards demonstrating the futility of respectability politics - no matter how many times he proves himself to be competent, qualified and the perfect gentleman, he is still treated with contempt and disrespect by many of the other sorcerers. As he says to Prunella:

"It is not within my power to make you respectable. I cannot even do that for myself."

No matter how perfectly he behaves, he will never be perfect enough to make up for the transgression of being black. There is also the matter of his secret anger and resentment towards his benefactor, Sir Stephen, who purchased him when he was a child:

"Did not Sir Stephen purchase your parents as well?"

"No, said Zacharias. "Presumably he did not discern the same potential in them."

The statement brought up the old anger and confusion, followed by the accustomed guilt, that he should be so ungrateful as to resent the man who had rescued him from bondage. And yet he did resent Sir Stephen, even now.

The relationship with Sir Stephen is a complicated one, to say the least. There are true regard and love between the two of them, but Zacharias has spent a long time forbidding himself to acknowledge the validity of his confusion, anger and resentment. These feelings of conflict arise not only in his individual relationship with Sir Stephen, but also in his role as the Sorcerer Royal, dedicated to serving the goals of a country that has very much been an enemy to Zacharias and countless other people of color around the world:

"You are called upon to advance the good of this nation, and none other. Your allegiance is no to magic alone, nor to all humanity, but to your own portion of humanity, to the country that nurtured you-"

"And enslaved my parents?" said Zacharias.

What I especially appreciated about Cho's depiction of historical racism is that it's also intersectional. Prunella and Zacharias experience the world in very different ways as men and women of color, and Prunella is very pragmatic about the fact that her primary goal is to find a rich husband because there are certain opportunities that will simply not be afforded to her until she is seen as a legitimate figure within London's social circles, and there are a very limited number of ways that she can make herself respectable as a poor, young, unmarried woman of color. Her goal is to knock off the "poor" and "unmarried" descriptors and hope that that takes her far enough. In addition, Zacharias starts out the story not thinking twice about the way that women are barred from doing magic, and he must unlearn his ignorance as he gets to know Prunella. His own personal experiences as an outsider because of his race give him empathy for her experiences as an outsider because of bother her gender and her race.

There's one quote in particular that I really loved from his process of unlearning his sexism:

"Surely feminine magic must be curbed, magic being so peculiarly detrimental to women's delicate frames. Besides, magic was too hard to come by in these days for it to be frittered away in women's frivolities - ballgowns and christening gowns and gowns of other descriptions.

Yet the moment this thought passed through Zacharias's mind, his conscience presented the image of Lady Wythe as a counterpoint. Anyone less likely to waste magic in fripperies was impossible to imagine- unless it were the cooks, maids, charwomen, herbwives, and other females of the lower classes, who were permitted to practise their craft in peace, because they employed it for the benefit of their betters.

For that matter, what could be more wasteful than the manner in which the heedless young members of the Theurgist's amused themselves? Magical fireworks and talking reflections were the least of their extravagances."

Zacharias begins to understand in this section that the gendered restriction on magic usage is at its heart a matter of hypocrisy. The men in power justify women's powerlessness through the use of stereotypes that they themselves embody and in fact have no basis in the way that women truly are. What's more, they are perfectly willing to turn around and ignore these rules and justifications entirely so long as they have the power of class privilege to ensure that poor women only use their magic in the service of "their betters."

Matters of colonialism are primarily explored through Britain's negotiations with the island of Janda Baik, located in the Malay peninsula. The government is concerned about placating the island's leader because of its incredibly valuable location to Britain's colonial ventures, and asks Zacharias to intervene in the island's conflicts using his magic. Enter Mak Genggang, a witch who is directly opposed to the island's current leader and Britain's colonial ventures. She and her witches embody resistance to the patriarchal and colonialist powers that are attempting to control their magic and their island, and it is not insignificant that they are also protecting vampiresses who became undead because they were wronged in their lives. It's also notable that Prunella's mother was betrayed by her father, who deceived her with the goal of obtaining Indian riches for Britain, and that Prunella comes into her own power by accessing this portion of her legacy in full.

As a final point, I'd like to just take a moment to celebrate Prunella in full. She's a truly delightful character; incredibly determined, charming, resourceful, brilliant and (as it turns out) rather ruthless when it comes to achieving her goals.

"You are a godless creature enough, Prunella."
Prunella acceded to this description of herself cheerfully: "I had no one to teach me better, you see."
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
April 25, 2022
Jane Austen meets P.G. Wodehouse meets Temeraire meets hahahahaha meets magical mayhem and thaumaturgic shenanigans meets refreshingly refreshing take on your average comedy of manners meets slightly scrumptious and delightfully diverse cast of characters. And where does that leave us, you ask? Why in dire need of a celebratory dance, obviously.

P.S. I want a simurgh for Christmas.

· Book 2: The True Queen ★★★★
· Book 2.5: Winter Sojourn · to be read

[Pre-review nonsense]

Review to come and stuff. Spoiler alert:

Profile Image for Mimi.
694 reviews191 followers
September 24, 2022
2.5 stars, rounding up because this is not a bad book, far from it actually. It's just not right for me.

I don't want to be unduly harsh, but I do have to be honest. So here goes.

It's a complete surprise to me that, of all the books I struggled to read last month, this one was the hardest to get through. If this had not been a buddy read, I'm pretty sure it would have been my first DNF of the year.

Not because it's a difficult read or there were issues with the writing or anything like that--everything about it is fine actually. It was a struggle to get through simply because I couldn't connect with any of the characters and was bored for most of the read. So bored in fact that, when I had to take a trip right at the moment the climax happened, I didn't even want to take the book out of town with me.

I think what it boils down to is that I felt the story, while having potential to be something great, was rather uninteresting for a historical fantasy about magic and colonialism. The most interesting thing about it is that it's told from the perspectives of two characters who were most impacted by the British Empire's colonial rule. This should have been the thing to reach out and pull me into the story, but that didn't happen.

However, the subtle and blatant displays of classism and racism faced by the main characters, one a young man and former slave of African descent and the other a biracial orphaned young woman, were well done. This was the strength of the book; everything else, like the magic and the magical society and the fae and the dragons, was mostly filler.

Something like this book should have been right up my alley though since I loved other books that were written in the same vein, all released fairly recently:
The Ghost Bride,
The Golem and the Jinni,
A Natural History of Dragons,
His Majesty's Dragon,
The Magpie Lord.
Unfortunately, Sorcerer to the Crown didn't strike a chord with me.

That aside, I must point out that there were quite a few nuanced, heartfelt moments in which slavery was touched upon by the main characters. This is the one that stands out the most to me and that I thought was very well portrayed.
A fine line appeared between Prunella’s eyebrows. “Did not Sir Stephen purchase your parents as well?”

“No,” said Zacharias. “Presumably he did not discern the same potential [for magic] in them.”

The statement brought up the old anger and confusion, followed by the accustomed guilt, that he should be so ungrateful as to resent the man who had rescued him from bondage. And yet he did resent Sir Stephen, even now.

“I don’t see why you feel obliged to him at all,” said Prunella. “What right had he to part you from your parents when you were so young?”

Her words seemed to echo Zacharias’s own thoughts, thoughts he had suppressed many a time, striving to feel the unclouded gratitude expected of him. What might his life have been, with a father and mother? It could not have cost Sir Stephen very much to purchase them as well—certainly not enough to strain his ample resources. How could his benevolence have extended so far as to move him to free Zacharias, but no further?

But it had been impossible to ask these questions of Sir Stephen or Lady Wythe, whose affection could not be doubted. That Zacharias’s own love for them was leavened with anger was best left unsaid; he tried not to know it himself.

“Very probably I would have been separated from my parents in any event,” he said. “What assurance can I feel that my parents were not in time separated from each other, against their will, and they powerless to prevent it?”

The answers to these questions were too painful to pursue to their conclusion, even in thought. They had only ever served to increase the complicated unhappiness that lay in wait whenever he thought of his parents.

* * * * *

The artwork for each edition of this book is just lovely. I want all of them on my shelf, even the German one.

Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1) by Zen Cho Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1) by Zen Cho Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1) by Zen Cho Die Magier Seiner Majestät (Sorcerer Royal, #1) by Zen Cho (GER)

* * * * *

It's been a couple of years since I read and disliked and almost completely forgotten everything about this book, yet the memories of the frustration of reading it are still with me. Somehow. Funny how memory and recall work. The memories come to the surface whenever I see an ad for a new book by Zen Cho. The cover artwork is always great and makes me want to pick up the book in question immediately, but then, I remember this book and my interest wanes just as quickly.

* * * * *

Cross-posted at https://covers2covers.wordpress.com/2...
Profile Image for Aliette.
Author 262 books2,002 followers
March 1, 2015
(based on an advance copy obtained from the publisher)

Magic, manners and dragons in Recency England--this alone would be awesome, but Zen Cho adds a veneer of comment on English colonial politics: the two main characters are POCs struggling to find a place in a highly hierarchical English society, and not always succeeding. Oh, and romance, and aunties, and Malaysian vampires; and plenty of hilarious sharp one-liners as sorcerer to the crown Zacharias and impoverished gentlewoman Prudence lock horns to discover who's the must stubborn between them. Like a mix of Jane Austen, PG Wodehouse, and Jonathan Strange and Mister Norell, and all its own thing. Glorious.

I want more like this. Fortunately there are two more books forthcoming ^^
Profile Image for Molly.
342 reviews127 followers
December 18, 2015

Rating, 3 stars. (more ranting than review)

It started promising, with little Zacharias Wythe showing the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, that he is a worthy apprentice to Sir Stephen Wythe, despite the color of his skin. Years have passed and following the death of Sir Stephen, Zacharias takes his place of Sorcerer Royal, something that because of his origins doesn't sit well with the majority of the thaumaturges (magicians/sorcerers).
Zacharias was born a slave. Sir Stephen saw something special in the little boy. He had liberated him (separating his fate from that of his birth parents), given him his name and the position in society that goes with it (no matter the society liked it or not) and honed him to become a powerful sorcerer.

Prunella Gentleman on the other hand was raised by Mrs. Daubeney, and hes spent her youth helping her manage the School for Gentlewitches. She never new her mother, who due to Prunella's complexion must have been of darker skin, and her father, Mr. Hilary Gentleman had left her alone in the world when she was but a little child (presumably drowning himself). Mrs Daubney, Gentleman's lodger didn't know what to do with the little girl that had even then begun to show troubling signs of being magical. Because Ladies cannot be magical. They are too fragile and empty-headed to handle magical powers. It is not something befitting a young lady. It is alright for some village woman to be a witch and sell some potions and herbs. But real magic is for men, more precisely .... gentlemen (and with the right colour of skin). Learning how to handle a girl afflicted by magic, Mrs. Daubney changes her fortunes opening a school for young ladies suffering the same magical problems as Prunella's.

“Being a school for gentlewitches, it did not, of course, instruct its students in practical thaumaturgy. Mrs. Daubeney knew just what parents desired her to inculcate in their inconveniently magical daughters: pretty manners, a moderate measure of education and, above all, a habit of restraint."

This book had all the elements it needed to make me fall in love with the story ... and then ... unfortunately it didn't. It had the interesting racial element that was underplayed. It had the possibility to shake the ground with the politics or war. The story unfolds on Britain during the Napoleonic wars. It had all the makes of great conflicts. Britain with France. The thaumaturges versus the British government. The thaumaturges versus the Fairy Court (even that was almost unused). And there was a botched attempt of romance .... don't look at me like that ... I don't count that as romance ... zero chemistry.

By some blurbs and reviews this was described as a mix of Georgette Heyer's regency novels and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I didn't read any of Heyer's books, though I think I know what regency books are like. Maybe there's something in that claim. For the comparisons with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.....phleeese, no way. I mean I get the similarities. but for someone to say if I love Heyer and Strange, I would love this book.
I did like parts of this book, but I loved all those 1000+ pages of Strange (footnotes and all), there's no way comparing these two.

In the end I think my problem was that Prunella has turned out to be (after a few promising chapters) too hungry for power and position for my taste.

"Prunella had no more interest in magical lore than a fish has in the philosophical properties of water."

Ok, she doesn't have any interest in magic even if she is gifted with more power than many men ... I can get that. But she wishes to be powerful through a high profile marriage?! She wants to wed someone wealthy (not just moderate wealthy), excessively in love with her... and who would let me do whatever she wished. Greedy much?!

I get girl-power. I love a kick-ass heroine that knows what she wants in life....but Prunella was too much for me. She reminded me of Alison Goodman's Eona, she was pretty hard to digest in book two Eona: The Last Dragoneye, but somehow I could get why she acted so power-hungry.... but with Prunella, not so much. So I ended grumbling to myself till the end of the book. And the ending ..... was that supposed to make me swoon??!

Maybe it's me again. Usually if something rubs me hard the wrong way, I can't enjoy the rest of the book (And oh, don't make me start on that poor familiar .... what was that?! Surely they could have found another solution to Leofric).

In the end Prunella annoyed me, Zacharias bored me .... and maybe I ended enjoying more smaller players like Damerell, Hsiang Han and Mak Genggang.

Not bad, not great... an OK book.
Profile Image for Repellent Boy.
488 reviews507 followers
March 27, 2023
El Londres de la Regencia se encuentra en un grave problema: la magia está agotándose y nadie sabe la razón. Los taumaturgos están muy preocupados ya que cada vez les cuesta más hacer magia y hasta pequeños hechizos consumen la poca que hay. Pero el Londres de la época está más preocupado aún por el hecho de que su hechicero real, el hombre mágico más importante del país, sea un hombre negro, un esclavo liberado. Zacharias vive día a día el rechazo, batallando contra la intolerancia de la época. Sin embargo, pese a lo complicado de su día a día, su vida va a dar un absoluto vuelco al conocer a Prunella, una joven con una habilidad mágica poco común y unas maneras demasiado descaradas para el decoro exigido a la mujer de la época.

Lo primero que quiero decir es que no sé si “ El hechicero de la corona” es una historia a la que todo el mundo sabrá sacarle la magia, nunca mejor dicho, pero como le pilles el punto, lo vas a disfrutar como si fueras un niño pequeño. La novela de Zen Cho tiene un aura tan particular, un encanto tan personal, que te sumerges en un mundo propio, en un lugar perfectamente definido. Siempre me sorprende la habilidad de algunos autores para crear esa magia que consigue ambientar un lugar de tal manera que puedas sentirlo a través de todos los sentidos. Si tuviera que comparar lo que he sentido leyendo esta historia, lo haría con la sensación que me dejó leer “El castillo ambulante”, y creo que todo el que haya disfrutado de la obra de Diana Wynne-Jones va a amar profundamente “El hechicero de la corona”.

La pareja protagonista de esta historia es brutal, dos personajes bien creados con muchísimo carisma, muy diferentes entre sí, pero que consiguen complementarse. Zacharias es un hombre tierno, que vive y lucha por los demás, que poco a poco va a sacando ese valor y esa garra que parecen mermados a causa de sus orígenes y del mundo hostil que le rodea. Pero si Zacharias enamora, y lo hace mucho, la que para mí se roba el corazón de la novela es Prunella, que no exagero si os digo que ya se ha convertido en uno de mis personajes favoritos de la literatura. Lo que me he reído leyendo este libro gracias a Prunella me ha pasado con pocos libros, ese tono irónico, a veces más sutil, a veces más descarado, pero siempre con un mensaje directo detrás, me han provocado carcajadas constantes. El personaje tiene tantas salidas de tono, que a veces tenía que releer algunos extractos por simple disfrute.

A través de la ironía constante de Prunella y de las ansias de cambio de Zacharias, Zen Cho nos envía mensajes y críticas constantes a temas como el machismo, el racismo, el colonialismo o el clasismo. Creo que el telón de fondo que ha elegido la autora sirve perfectamente para mantener esa sutileza en el mensaje y que no se sienta una crítica recargada, pero que sea constante. Las situaciones tan ridículas que se daban en la época en la que se enmarca la historia en cuanto a la mujer o la clase social, hace que el sarcasmo de Prunella y las reflexiones de Zacharias surtan un efecto mucho más potente del que, creo, conseguirían si la historia estuviera ubicada en una época más actual.

Y en cuanto a los estrictamente mágico debo decir que aunque no hay nada especialmente novedoso o que explore un sistema de magia nunca visto, creo que la magia sirve como un vehículo muy poderoso para transmitir todo lo que la autora quiere contar, aportándole todos esos matices para que la historia tenga ese encanto tan único que, personalmente, me ha enamorado. Eso sí, aunque me hubiera gustado ver más de estas diferentes criaturas mágicas, las que se ven me han parecido muy originales.

“El hechicero de la corona” es una historia confortable, que pese a ser una obra orientada en Occidente, tiene algunos elementos asiáticos propios de los orígenes de la autora, y me muero de ganas de leer la segunda parte, “La reina legítima”, que publicará Duermevela en unos meses, donde parece que se acercará aún más a estos elementos. También he descubierto que la novela se enmarca dentro de la fantasía costumbrista, subgénero fantástico del que ya me declaro absoluto fan. La edición incluye un posfacio super interesante donde se analiza este subgénero y se mencionan otras autoras y obras para seguir sumergiéndose en él. Las he anotado todas.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,658 reviews1,693 followers
April 1, 2016
This sneaky little book is a sneaking sneakster. It sneaks right up on you, and you love it before you realize what's happening.

I actually read this book way before I meant to. I realized on my drive to Phoenix a couple of weeks ago that I was quickly going to run out of Pride and Prejudice audiobook, and I didn't have a replacement on deck. Good old public library and OneClickDigital had this puppy featured, and I wanted to read it anyway, so why not?

It was a bit hard to get into at first. I kept having to rewind the audiobook and listen to parts over again. But once I got a couple chapters in, the book either picked up or I was sufficiently comfortable with the characters and the world that it wasn't a problem anymore. And then I had a new problem, which was: This is a really good book, and I don't want to stop listening to it.

Sorcerer to the Crown takes place in an alternate Regency England, one in which magic is real, and flows into the mortal world from Faerie. Only, for generations now, England's magic has been drying up. There is less of it to go around, and less people popping up who can practice it. This isn't helped by the English dum-dums refusing to educate anyone but a gentleman in the art of proper magic. If you're lower class or female, forget it. And if you're female, there are schools of magic where not only do they *not* teach you how to practice magic, but the entire focus of the school is for young girls to learn to suppress their magic.

Yeah. This is one of THOSE books. And I loved every second of it.

Our two main characters are Zacharias, a black man adopted out of slavery by England's Sorcerer Royal at the age of six when his talent with magic made itself known, and Prunella, a half-Indian half-white orphan. As the story opens, Zacharias is dealing with the fallout of the death of his adopted father, Sir Stephen. Mysterious circumstances resulted in Zacharias emerging from Sir Stephen's study the night he died, now in possession of the staff of the Sorcerer Royal. Already not accepted due to his skin color, the murky situation leads to rampant rumors and many of England's most powerful sorcerers questioning whether he deserves to be the Sorcerer Royal. Prunella is currently living in one of the aforementioned schools of magic for young ladies, and striving to hide just how excessively magical she really is, when a visit from Zacharias upends her whole life.

The most surprising, and most pleasant, thing about this book is how subversively funny it is. If you're not paying attention, the jokes could pass you by, but if you are, there's some really funny stuff hidden in Cho's prose. Her characters are also wonderfully alive. Prunella is one of my favorite characters I've read in the last couple of years. She just don't give a shit.

The atmosphere of this book was delicious, and the story satisfying. It was surprising and funny and moving. Not sure what else I could ask for.

I don't know where Cho is taking the sequels this book is apparently getting, but one nice thing about Sorcerer to the Crown is that it is self-contained. No cliffhangers, just a nice beginning, middle and end.

I need to buy my own copy and re-read it, so I can catch everything I'm sure I missed.

[4.5 stars]
Profile Image for Sherwood Smith.
Author 168 books37.5k followers
October 4, 2015
Copy provided by NetGalley

There have been a plethora of fantasy-romances-in-the-Regency of late, not surprising considering there's a good chance that a lot of these authors grew up reading Georgette Heyer, and possibly Jane Austen. Except for Susanna Clarke, I don't find Austen's sharp characterization, wit, or style of satire in any of them, however there's a strong feel of Heyer's mix of modernity and her idiosyncratic version of Regency era language in most, and I think that the homage to Heyer is part of the strong appeal as they are entertaining and accessible to readers not steeped in period literature.

In Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown, there is a great deal of Heyer's idiom, but without her tendency toward unexamined prejudice and the underlying assumption that Birth Will Always Tell.

What Cho gives us instead is a black Sorcerer Royal, who, despite his intelligence and scrupulous honesty, is constantly dealing with insults, assassination attempts, and other forms of bigotry by supposedly well-born Englishmen. Meanwhile, he is also a man of his own time in believing that females are too frail to handle magic . . . until he meets beautiful, dusky-skinned Prunella Gentleman. Then the sparks begin to fly!

Meanwhile, there are potentates and witches from foreign lands to deal with, and also awareness of French sorcerers ready to pounce (Cho does the most interesting job, I find, in explaining why magic isn't used in the Napoleonic wars), and oh yes, Britain's magic is seriously ebbing.

The book is a great deal of fun, with some laugh-out-loud moments. Some of the motivations might not bear close scrutiny, as is often the way with comedic books, but the many threads, and especially the thoroughly imaginative magic, race along at a spanking pace--while taking some good hard looks at colonialism and the groundless assumptions of the prerogatives of "good birth" when manners, morals, and brains are missing.

Come to think of it, however little the language resembles Jane Austen's, in many ways I think the book's intent might have tickled her fancy, considering her trenchant representation of nobly born and pretentiously superior characters in her novels. Her satire of social frauds hiding behind their pedigrees and Cho's sapient eye on same share a great deal of a similar spirit.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,440 reviews830 followers
May 15, 2017
Set in a Regency style Britain. An enjoyable and farcical magic infused romp. The author uses the language of the Regency period very well (says I, who gets all her ideas about Regency phrases from Georgette Heyer novels - therefore an expert!). It has similarities in tone to Novak's Temeraire series.
The main characters suffer from the racist attitudes and gender inequality of the times as well as setting the magical world to rights as open to all, not just the priviledged. Sorcerers, magicians, witches, vampires, fairies, familiars, dragons, unicorns, mermaids- they're all here. Enjoy!
May 27, 2022
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“He spoke the spell under his breath, still a little uncertain after the agonies he had endured. But magic came, ever his friend—magic answered his call.”

Written in a playful pastiche style Sorcerer to the Crown will certainly appeal to fans of Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, and Diana Wynne Jones. Cho’s bombastic prose, characterized by an Austenesque sense of humor, and madcap fantasy of manners story were a delight to read.
The first time I read this, back in 2015/6, I did, truth be told, struggle to get into Cho’s high register language. But, the more I read, the more I familiarised myself with her lofty and loquacious style. Sorcerer to the Crown was a brilliant read, a real blast!

“In truth magic had always had a slightly un-English character, being unpredictable, heedless of tradition and profligate with its gifts to high and low.”

Set in an alternate Regency England, Sorcerer to the Crown follows Zacharias Wythe, the country’s first Black Sorcerer Royal, who was raised by his recently deceased predecessor, Sir Stephen. While Zacharias clearly respected and was grateful to Sir Stephen, the two didn’t always see eye to eye. Moreover, Zacharias can’t forget that Sir Stephen bought and freed him, separating from his own family. This being Regency England Zacharias is treated with open animosity by most of his colleagues, some of whom are actively attempting to besmirch his name, claiming that he’s responsible for England's decline of magic and Sir Stephen’s death. Zacharias is an incredibly level-headed individual, a thinker not a fighter. He’s serious, studious, punctilious. He’s also fair, loyal, and endearingly naïve. Yet, even he can’t quite keep his calm when his reputation, and life, are under attack. Attempting to clear his name and to discover the reason behind England’s magic drought, he leaves London.

“Magic was too strong a force for women’s frail bodies—too potent a brew for their weak minds—and so, especially at a time when everyone must be anxious to preserve what magical resource England still possessed, magic must be forbidden to women.”

He visits Mrs. Daubeney's School for Gentlewitches, a place that is meant to snuff any magic from its pupils. In England, the only women who are ‘allowed’ to practice magic are those from the lower classes (and can only use spells to facilitate their daily chores/tasks). Due to her ‘questionable’ parentage (ie her mother was not an Englishwoman) Prunella Gentlemen, similarly to Zachariah, has always been treated as an outsider. Prunella is an orphan who thanks to her ‘generous’ benefactor, Mrs. Daubeney, was, for the most part, treated like the other students. When an incident threatens to change this, Prunella decides to take matters into her own hands and forge her own path to happiness.

“Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking,” said Zacharias severely.
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Prunella, pleased.

Zacharias and Prunella cross paths and form a camaraderie of sorts. While Prunella is still very much self-serving, repeatedly going behind Zacharias’ back or eliding important information & discoveries, she does seem to enjoy bantering with Zacharias. Together they face disgruntled magicians, engage in some magical mishaps, attend/crash a ball, confront angry magical creatures, try to reason with a formidable witch, partake in discussions with some rather tedious thaumaturgist, and challenge the Society's long-established traditions and hierarchies.

““Why, all the greatest magic comes down to blood,” said Mak Genggang. “And who knows blood better than a woman?”

While the witty dialogues and droll characters result in delightfully humourous, within her narrative Cho incorporates a sharp social commentary. From the rampant racism and xenophobia that were typical of this time to addressing gender and class inequalities. Through satire Cho highlights these issues, and, in spite of her story’s fantastical backdrop, Cho doesn’t romanticise this period of time and the England that emerges from these pages feels all too real. The use of historically accurate language and the attention paid to the time’s etiquette and social mores, result in an incredibly well-rendered historical setting.

While this type of narrative won’t appeal to those looking for action-driven stories, Cho’s sparkling storytelling is not to be missed. The follow-up to this book is, dare I say, even better.
Profile Image for Marie.
143 reviews44 followers
July 27, 2017
This magical, fantastical, witty comedy of manners meets magical fairyland is so fun to read. There is much foreshadowing to provide plenty of excitement and anticipation for the sequel which has not yet been published. For all it’s playfulness, there is also an underlining seriousness to this novel. This has to do with the politics of Britain and the treatment of women and people of color. In fairyland, race does not matter, it is not even noticed. Likewise, in fairyland, women are equally adept and capable of practicing magic as men are. This is in stark contrast to England. Politics and society are portrayed as a comedy of manners in Britain where people are tripping over themselves to maintain decorum despite the pervading racism and sexism.

The story is set in 19th century England. Upon the death of his guardian and mentor, Zacharias Wythe becomes the “sorcerer royal” more out of obligation, than desire. Given that he is a freed slave, a black man, there is much outcry against him. There is an underground movement afoot to unseat him, led by the unscrupulous and dishonest Geoffrey Midsomer. This all comes at a time when there is a drain on the magic in England, there are political entanglements with magicians from foreign lands, and war is ensuing with France.

Zacharias is asked to visit a school for gentle witches where the main objective is to banish or hide their magical abilities. Zacharias immediately notices the magical talents of Prunella Gentleman, who was orphaned and left in the care of Mrs. Daubney at a young age. Prunella has fallen out of favor with Mrs. Daubney, the headmistress of the school and Prunella’s guardian since her father’s death. She asks Prunella to move to the servant’s quarters, but instead Prunella accompanies Zacharias back to London and begins to study thaurmatorgy with him. Prunella has recently discovered herself in possession of a singing orb and seven familiar’s eggs. As she begins to grow her familiars while looking for a husband, her powers grow, and a love interest develops between Zacharias and Prunella. Prunella is certainly a “Cinderella” character, but one with much bravery, talent and ambition. It is she who becomes the true star, the heroine of the novel, able to take the reins of her position, to succeed as the ultimate “Sorceress Royal.”

This is, of course, a very simplified and scaled back version of the novel. There are many subplots within the main plot. The novel is chock full of an interesting array of characters: nosy society ladies, seedy politicians, faeries, vampiresses, curious familiars, mermaids, dragons, and much more!

This novel is craftily written, full of surprises and larger than life characters. It is at once serious and whimsical. It delights and exceeds expectations. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys fantasy fiction!!

For discussion questions, please visit: http://www.book-chatter.com/?p=776
Profile Image for Eon ♒Windrunner♒  .
423 reviews467 followers
January 5, 2016
Zacharias looked around, but everyone had ceased to pay attention to him. For the moment he was reprieved.
He let out a small sigh of relief. As if that tiny breath were the key to his locked memory, his mind opened, and the spell fell into it, fully formed. The words were so clear and obvious, their logic so immaculate, that Zacharias wondered that he had ever lost them.
He spoke the spell under his breath, still a little uncertain after the agonies he had endured. But magic came, ever his friend—magic answered his call. The birds carved upon the box blushed red, green, blue and yellow, and he knew that the spell had caught.
The birds peeled away from the box as they took on substance and being, their wings springing away from their bodies, feathers sprouting upon their flesh. They flew up to the ceiling, squawking. The breeze from their wings brushed Zacharias’s face, and he laughed.
One by one the carved bosses sprang to life, and the dead sorcerers and the sour old Green Men and the lions and the lambs and the birds opened their mouths, all of them singing, singing lustily Zacharias’s favourite song, drowning out the angry voices of the men below, and filling the room with glorious sound.

You had me at magic Miss Cho.

I LOVE magic.

We are presented with an alternate version of historical England (think Pride & Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel) where the magical society is in a bit of an upheaval for two reasons. Firstly, the current Sorcerer Royal (think Head Magician) has recently passed away, but not before ensuring his successor, who is a black man and therefore despised by most magicians. For it is commonly known, that magic should only be done by white, privileged gentleman. Blood will always tell you know. Secondly, the magic in England is in decline and no-one knows why. Fortunately (read sarcasm),this problem has a convenient scapegoat in the form of a *gasp* black Sorcerer Royal.

And so the new Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias Wythe, sets out to determine the reason for the decline and to return magic to England. It is in this quest that he happens upon a young lady called Prunella.

She is dark-skinned. She is a women. She has no filter. No sense of propriety. And she has no fear. Oh, and she has more magical talent than just about all of the old, white men in England combined.

“Can you conceive anything more absurd?” said a thaumaturge to a friend, in a carrying whisper. “He might as well seek to persuade us that a pig can fly—or a woman do magic!”
The friend observed that so could pigs fly, if one could be troubled to make them.
“Oh certainly!” replied the first. “And one could teach a woman to do magic, I suppose, but what earthly good would a flying pig or a magical female be to anyone?”

The prevalent prejudice though, ensures that she has just as much of an uphill battle as Zacharias. For it is also known that women are too frail to practice magic, and therefore any young ladies with magical ability are sent to special schools where they are dissuaded from using it and at the same time subjected to horrible spells meant to remove these abilities.

“Mrs. Daubeney knew just what parents desired her to inculcate in their inconveniently magical daughters: pretty manners, a moderate measure of education and, above all, a habit of restraint."

Fortunately, Prunella is like nothing or no-one they have ever encountered. She will change everything they know...

“Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking,” said Zacharias severely.
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Prunella, pleased.”


PS: A special mention to Mak Gengang, who clearly knows how revenge works.

“Ma’am,” he said to Mak Genggang, “we had an agreement, as I recall. The thaumaturge who caused your coven such inconvenience has been punished. His familiar has been taken from him.”
“I am pleased to hear it,” said Mak Genggang. “It is no more than he deserves. I should advise you not to stop there, but set fire to his house, too, and sell his children to pirates. That is the only way he will learn to abandon his wicked ways.

PPS: That hint of romance and the nod at Pride & Prejudice at the end of the book was fantastic.
Profile Image for Zanna.
676 reviews948 followers
January 10, 2019
This book is extremely good fun. It sends up the imperialist, masculinist, racist and class-fixated culture of Regency England superbly while weaving an intricate and satisfying fantasy plot around deeply sympathetic central characters. I especially liked how different cultures have different magical philosophies and theories.
Profile Image for Alissa.
617 reviews86 followers
March 7, 2017
This is a very delicate story. I truly appreciated the writing style and the hyperbolic characters, the novelty of integrated people of foreign birth as protagonists and all the little idiosyncrasies of this alternative Regency London society.

I agree that the atmosphere, the presence of an association of thaumaturges, fairies and a crisis regarding English magic are reminiscent of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (I’ve not read the book, only watched the TV show). This said, while this story has its serious moments and themes, it’s overall on the comedy side and very likely to amuse the reader with Zacharias’ equanimity, Prunella’s impetuous originality and Mak Genggang’s disruptive guile.

The worldbuilding and characterization are very loose, just enough to outline the situation and introduce the characters. Plot-wise there isn’t much, the story could be summarized in a brief paragraph but fortunately it swivels around totally absurd situations and crises; the very fact that the entire cast acts as if everything happening is perfectly logical and ordinary is a source of constant mirth.
This book is also an exercise in style; the linear narrative makes use of a rich and delightful prose full of interesting words and phrases, never too complex. Definitely what I liked the most.

Unfortunately, the book goes on and on about women’s (females) unsuitability to perform magic and how they must therefore suppress and conceal any magical talent. Only labor class women's craft can partially be overlooked since it may be of use to their betters. Lucky servants.
Maybe it is a way to acquaint the reader with the key concepts needed to understand how the characters will interact, but still. Women learn to endure and dissimulate AND their worth is measured in the marriage market. I get it. Prunella is torn between ingrained beliefs and what may be within her power to achieve (she doesn’t waste time in sorting out her priorities, but she has her lapses).
Then there is the protagonist, Zacharias, a man of exquisite manners who, in turn, has learnt to endure and dissimulate because he happens to be dark skinned (as his most liberal colleagues affably describe, “a most gentlemanlike fellow, leaving aside his colour”).
Again the story goes on and on about the prejudices he faces, what it meant for a manumitted African boy to be adopted by English blueblood (named Whyte, no less) and the upper-class embarrassment at Zacharias’s role of prestige amongst the Unnatural Philosophers societal majority. I get it, he’s ostracised.

I found the droning reminders annoying since remembering a few details is not that hard. I’m more drawn to a story which allows me to experience the characters, however little development there may be, rather than one which endeavours to shape my opinions and sympathies.
This trait of the narrative holds true for the plot points and descriptions, too, leaving no room for the reader’s imagination. The ending result is akin to over-explaining and I think it’s not coincidental that I failed to connect with the whole story. Of course, it doesn’t help that there is not much going on, either.

The saving grace is that the prose is beautiful and fits my idea of Britain's “ton” like a glove. You know, flowery speech, mannerly slander, prudish barbed remarks, fashionable witticisms…The Royal Society with its quirks and foibles has a prominent role in the novel, and I liked it very much, along with the lampoon secondary characters, the textbook English humour, the feeling of surrealism in the whole ordeal (the cork ploy was priceless) and Mak Genggang’s opinion on all of this.

The general direction of the plot is clear since the outset and the clues about the upcoming revelations plain enough. Thankfully this predictability was not irksome because the book never aims at depth and it is consistent with the light spirit of the story. A pity though, the author could have capitalized better on the choice of protagonists not sporting the “proper” skin hue and of a setting where gender and census come amorally first behind a façade of liberal righteousness.

As a consequence I found myself dividing my attention on evenings: read some more or watch an episode of Vikings? This never happens with books I truly like. I’ve also developed a slight case of the jitters at the word "female/s": it occurs 75 times, mainly with regard to those of the human species.

It’s not that the novel lacks structure or interesting moments but its storytelling and slow-moving thin plot didn’t work well for me. It's occasionally fine when the characters are truly memorable or the worldbuilding unique but it’s not the case here: reading Sorcerer to The Crown felt like dining on a bland nouvelle cuisine entrée, pleasant and utterly forgettable.

“The realities of government do not always permit the unobstructed application of principle”.
Profile Image for Carly.
456 reviews183 followers
August 17, 2015
In Sorcerer to the Crown, comedy of manners meets fairyland, and the result is pure unadulterated fun. The story takes place in an alternate reality where magic, once a primary occupation in the best of families, is slowly falling out of favour as England’s atmospheric magic dries up. While the nonmagical part of society may be preoccupied by their victories and failures in the Napoleonic war, magical society is engrossed by scandal. Sir Stephen, the old Sorcerer to the Crown, has died under mysterious circumstances, his familiar has disappeared, and the man who has taken up the staff is none other than an emancipated slave Sir Stephen picked up on his travels and raised as a thaumaturge. Zacharias himself never wanted to be Sorcerer to the Crown; he’d much rather continue his research into restoring England’s atmospheric magic. Instead, his new role throws him into imperialistic politics, plots against his life, meetings with the Fairy Court, and, most frightening of all, giving a speech at a school of gentlewitches on the dangers of magic.

Sorcerer to the Crown is definitely a comedy of manners, and I think it very successfully integrates some shoutouts to authors such as Austen, Wodehouse, and even Hornug. Although the entire sequence of events is triggered by a speaking visit to a girl’s school (Yes, I see what you did there), the greatest influence upon style and plot is definitely Austen. I’m not generally fond of Austenesque alternate magical realities, but Cho really did her research and has created a charming book with much of the amusing commentary as the authors she references:
”Can you conceive of anything more absurd? [...] He might as well seek to persuade us that a pig can fly--or a woman can do magic!”
The friend observed that so could pigs fly, if one could be troubled to make them.
“Oh, certainly!” replied the first. “And one could teach a woman to do magic, I supposed, but what earthly good would a flying pig or a magical female be to anyone?”

It’s been over a decade since I’ve read it and the book is exceedingly dim in my memory, but I think if you enjoyed Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and are (still) waiting anxiously for the sequel, Sorcerer to the Crown is definitely worth a look. From my very vague recollections and a helpful recap from a friend, there are certain similarities in the plot, including the heavy focus on parties and politics and the ways in which these familiar themes are altered by the presence of magic. Sure, Regency or Napoleonic fantasy stories are dime a dozen, but I think Cho’s story is elevated from the rest of the rank and file by her examination of political issues surrounding racism and sexism. In Zacharias’s world, women are considered “too delicate” for magic, and are strongly discouraged from practicing it. The other major character, the “inconveniently magical” Prunella, is forced to make a decision between practicing her craft and finding a functioning place in society, and she is coldly pragmatic about her options. Both Prunella and Zacharias are pioneers for their minority in the area of magic, and Cho deftly presents the pressures they face to be “model minorities.” Zacharias, in particular, has been subject to endemic racism all his life, exoticised, belittled, and dismissed. Sir Stephen’s advice to him was always to simply take it, to never lose his courtesy, and to outperform and defy expectations. Cho touches upon the stifling weight of responsibility that Zacharias lives under. As he says at one point,
"I would not have been rescued from my bondage if not for Sir Stephen’s conviction that he could make of me something extraordinary. I was told that I must prove the African’s ability to English thaumaturgy."
As a pioneer in diversity, Zacharias is tasked with the responsibility of the magical reputation of his entire race. Prunella faces similar issues, but she is far less willing to accept such an unfair burden and instead uses all the ”amoral ingenuity” she possesses to remove such obstacles in her path.

If you’re looking for a gentle, often silly story of Napoleonic-era magic that still manages to dip into some more interesting themes, then Sorcerer to the Crown is definitely worth a look.

~~I received an advanced reader copy through Netgalley from the publisher, Penguin Group, in exchange for my honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~
Profile Image for Rose Lerner.
Author 20 books554 followers
September 28, 2015
This book was an absolute delight from start to finish. The comparison to Heyer and Susanna Clarke is super apt, I really felt like I was reading a Heyer but without all the annoying stuff, and also there was magic and magic swashbuckling and husband hunting and forceful older ladies who IN SOME CASES are also dragons. It was that feeling of light banter-y goodness with plenty of just-hinted-at angst. I loved every character, everything was perfect, READ IT. Zachary is my darling and Prunella is the classic "hoyden heroine with zero fear of consequences" in the very best way, and their romance is SO CHARMING.

There was one thing that bothered me, but it's a pretty big spoiler, the short version is possible TW for transphobia (not sure that's quite the right word but):
Profile Image for Libros Prestados.
426 reviews790 followers
June 24, 2022
"Dragones y tacitas: la novelización" es una historia muy divertida y amena que mezcla fantasía y diría novelas de la regencia, pero lo que quiero decir en realidad es Jane Austen. Obviamente, a mucha gente le vendrá a la cabeza "Jonathan Strange y el señor Norrell" de Susanna Clarke, pero realmente no se parecen. La novela de Clarke juega más con la forma, imita mejor la literatura de la época, siendo un pastiche, mientras que el libro de Cho se centra en querer contar una historia fresca y entretenida. En ambas historias se habla de la desaparición/resurgir de la magia y del mundo de las hadas, pero tienen motivaciones y desarrollos diferentes.

Los personajes son muy carismáticos, tanto los dos protagonistas como el plantel de secundarios, y el ritmo no decae nunca. Aunque sí es cierto que hay un par de momentos donde se siente como si hubiera habido un salto en la trama, como si algo no se hubiera explicado del todo, pero es una sensación momentánea.

En definitiva, es una novela muy entretenida, con mensaje intercalado que nunca se hace pesado, ideal para los periodos vacacionales.
Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
August 19, 2015
Received to review via the publisher

I was really excited to get my hands on this one, and confess I begged rather through whatever medium I could think of. So much glee when I did get it! It wasn’t strictly on my reading list for this month, but I figured I had to behave myself and read it right away, especially since my reviews can be somewhat delayed in posting. This was not at all a hardship, except in that I kept getting distracted from my paid freelance work to a) read it or b) flail about it.

If you’re seeing the comparison to Susanna Clarke and thinking “oh no”, you may not be much reassured to know that I liked this, considering that I consider Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell to be an amazing piece of work. However, I’m not insensible of the criticisms people have had of that book, and the Georgette Heyer comparison is perhaps more apt in terms of tone and style. The plot might be rather Clarke-ish — the issues with English magic, the requests of the government for help in war, issues of imperialism and slavery, and of course commerce between the lands of Fairy and our own — but the tone is more like Heyer, and the writing rather lighter than Clarke’s in JS & MN. My only issue with the writing is that sometimes it seemed a bit too stilted: “do not you [x]” was not as common a construction in actual Regency times as used here, I think. Something struck me as wrong, in any case, though I confess that I haven’t particularly examined Austen and Heyer too closely on their syntax, and this is just my kneejerk reaction as someone who reads a lot from all periods.

The story itself is fun. I quickly began to suspect aspects of it, but didn’t put everything together until the end, and there were one or two things that caught me out. The love story is sweet: the realisation that there’s something there is fairly swift, but actual action and resolution of it isn’t, so it avoids feeling too easy. There’s some beautiful writing here — lovely images, lovely meditations on relationships between characters. And of course, it can’t help but meditate on colonialism given Zacharias’ birth and adoption, Prunella’s mixed heritage, and Mak Genggang’s part in the story. It’s done sensitively, with an understanding that there may be great affection even where there’s also problematic elements (meaning mostly the relationship between Zacharias and Sir Stephen).

Most of all, you’ve just got to love Prunella’s sheer audacity. She’d give Heyer’s Sophy a run for her money, I think, and like her she’s also kind and concerned with others.

All in all, I enjoyed this a lot; the only real stumbling block for me was in it being compared to such giants as Heyer and Clarke, and in some of the language — mostly the dialogue, in fact — which didn’t sound right to me. I do recommend it, even if you couldn’t get on with JS & MN; it’s not the same sort of slow, measured narrative at all, and there are absolutely no footnotes (at least in the uncorrected proof I’ve received!). It’s also a stand-alone fantasy (or if it doesn’t, it is perfectly satisfactory as one), which I know some people (myself included) very much crave.

Originally posted here.
Profile Image for Monica.
387 reviews84 followers
November 4, 2015
Set in an alternate historical Regency England where magicians hold a place of prestige in society, Sorcerer to the Crown has prose that reflects the novel’s antiquated setting combined with the pacing of a highly engaging adventure. With significant themes including isolation and prejudice, it is definitely a thought-provoking novel, but Cho’s sense of the whimsical and her often light-hearted storytelling ensure that it is a quick and easy read. Though this book is often compared to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I found Sorcerer to the Crown to be a more enjoyable, less laborious read, with a better sense of the absurd. This is the perfect read for those looking for a feel-good fantasy that is still smart and original.

One of the best elements of this novel is the protagonist, Zacharias Wythe. Freed from slavery as a small child by a prominent English sorcerer, Zacharias struggles to gain acceptance and respect from his fellow sorcerers, and society in general, who look down on him because of his background and the color of his skin. When he suddenly inherits the position of Sorcerer to the Crown, the most exalted position a sorcerer can achieve, his whole world starts to fall apart. In order to escape the persecution of colleagues who are trying to unseat him from his position, he ventures to the border of Fairyland in hopes of discovering why the influx of magic into England has stopped. On the way he meets Prunella Gentleman, a young woman whose magical prowess is both forbidden and far more powerful than he could have imagined. Together they will attempt to save England from threats both magical and mundane, all the while fighting against the prejudice of a society that sees them as inferior.

Zacharias and Prunella are both complex characters who, despite their quirks, are incredibly easy to root for. Both characters are betrayed and persecuted, but still ache to put trust in those who may or may not be deserving. Their struggles give depth to the novel in a way that challenges the reader to think about these issues on a much larger scale. They both become endearing to the reader not only through their struggles, but with their contrasting personalities that clash in unsuspecting and often humorous ways. Prunella in particular adds plenty of hilarity to the novel through her biting wit and her absolute refusal to accept society’s restrictions on women (which tends to get her into the most absurd situations). Zacharias is a much more subdued and subtle character than Prunella, but his intelligence and pure intentions lead him to take on the burden of London’s magical problems, and his status as an outcast leaves him with very few people to turn to for help. It is the combination of these two opposite approaches that will finally allow Zacharias and Prunella a way to fight for a bright future for London’s magical society.

Despite Cho’s addition of complex themes, Sorcerer to the Crown is in many ways an intelligent comedy. Though this is often the result of quick-witted dialogue, I also must commend Cho’s subtle addition of humor into her prose. Her subtle commentary on British imperialism is amusing and apt, and the magical beings Zacharias and Prunella come in contact with are light and imaginative in a way that often caused me to laugh out loud. Those looking for a darker or more epic fantasy will surely be disappointed, but as far as fantasy set in the Regency era, this novel is one of the most engaging and entertaining that I have read.

My Rating: 8/10

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on Avid Reviews: http://www.avidfantasyreviews.com
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