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…
I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho is absolutely gorgeous. Of the books that I have read in 2015, I do not think a book has warmed my heart more. For anyone who loves an imaginative fantasy interlaced with undisguised socio-political awareness and commentary that features endearing, loveable characters, Sorcerer to the Crown will be a chocolate box – delightfully unexpected and satisfyingly sweet.
It is true what they say: Sorcerer to the Crown is Austen-meets-fantasy. The sharp wit, irony, critique of society, romantic undertones and allusions, and parody are all present in Sorcerer to the Crown. And yet, despite its character being influenced, the book assumes an identity of its own by tackling head-on issues still relevant today. The book’s protagonist is Zacharias Wythe, an African slave freed and the first of his colour to hold the highest position of his profession, the Sorcerer Royal. Set in Regency Britain where expectations are everything, the reality of his standing and person is merely suffered by his white peers and, in some cases, earns him some adversaries.
Set predominantly in polite society where etiquette and manners are paramount, the bigotry and prejudice that Zacharias endures sets an undertone of its setting and insight into Zacharias’s steadfast character. The book’s themes are chiefly political, and indeed politics has a strong presence in the narrative. There are also discourses on colonialism, racism, and sexism (explored through Regent Britain’s belief that women cannot practise thaumaturgy). Even Zacharias, self-aware of his history as a slave and struggles with the complex tangle of gratitude versus resentment towards his benefactor, exhibits difficulty to overcome his internalized perceptions of women and magic. This, of course, makes a deep and introspective narrative, and Cho’s analysis of the themes come with a rare lightheartedness.
It is, however, the characters in the story that make Sorcerer to the Crown truly spectacular and magical. Both Zacharias and Prunella were fantastic characters, especially for their flaws (not despite)! Zacharias, for his tenacity and patience which is constantly tested entailing emotional and personal burdens and conflicting emotions, and Prunella for her hilarious and unashamed disregard for propriety, her boldness, her candor, and larger-than-life personality.
Indeed, there exists a consciousness of the disadvantages both characters face for their colour. However, these issues are addressed with sensitivity, without deviating from the purpose of the story, and also with an element of satire. Special mentions to Sir Stephen, who at times acts as Zacharias’s antithesis, their conversations and debates bringing forth a dialectic which flesh the ideas and propositions in the book, and also Mak Genggang, a Malaysian vampiress whose sharp tongue and blatant apathy for trivial politics will make her an instantly likable character. The array and variety of different personalities and entities are as distinctive and sublime as the next. I loved meeting different characters and the fantastical creatures to be found in Sorcerer to the Crown – and isn’t that one of the simplest joys of reading?
The only qualm one may encounter is that it is exceptionally slow to start. The writing style may also prove to be a challenge (as it did for me) but once you become habituated to it, the narrative is pleasant and very charming. The story expertly balances humour, intellect, gravitas, political intrigue, fantasy, magic, with discourse on race, colonialism, and the advancement of women, and only at the hands of an exceptional writer can such a story be accomplished. In the hands of Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown does more than succeed in being a good book – it entertains, educates, and is absolutely inspired.
Book Name: Sorcerer to the Crown
Book Series: Sorcerer Royal #1
Author: Zen Cho