Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

sorcerer

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. 

Rating: 5/5

Book Information
Book Name: Sorcerer to the Crown
Book Series: Sorcerer Royal #1
Author: Zen Cho
Publisher: Ace

Sorcerer to the Crown in:
Goodreads | Book Depository | Amazon

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11 thoughts on “Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

  1. Actually after reading this review, I feel like TL;DRs aren’t that necessary, haha. Your readers that prefer shorter reviews will probably be fine with the bold points, I think. ^.^ And oh my gosh, this sounds like my type of book. I mean “Austen meets fantasy” was what sold me. I love Jane Austen and fantasy/paranormal are my go-to genres so… And dynamic characters? Definitely going onto my TBR list. Lovely review, as always, Chooi!

    • Hehe that’s what I think now! Ooh I haven’t read much of Austen, but if you like her + fantasy, you’ll DEFINITELY like Sorcerer to the Crown. :)

      You’ll love the characters omgg they’re so loveable. I want to snuggle them all. And have tea with them. c:

      Thanks Summer! <3 <3

        • I’ve only read Pride and Prejudice! I didn’t love it as much as my sister loved it though. I tried reading Persuasion but the first few chapters has, so, many, commas and I’m just like WHYYYYY D:

          • LOL. Actually I was totally a victim of Austen’s writing. I remember an instance where I was reading one page at least five times. In my defense, I was 11 and wasn’t much of reader then, haha. But anyway, I found the film adaptations to make me appreciate the stories more. LOL, what am I saying? What type of reader am I to say that? Haha. XD

  2. I adored this book so much, it charmed my socks off, so I am so glad to hear that you had a great time as well. I agree that the beginning was quite slow, I didn’t wake up until the vivacious Prunella stepped onto the stage. She’s one of my favourite heroines ever! I thought that the message about race and gender equality could have used some subtlety but overall I loved the book so much!

    • Right? I adore Prunella. She was such a breath of fresh air and she’s definitely in my top 3 fave protags of this year.

      Hmmm yes I see what you mean and I read that in your review! I’m super interested in what will happen in the sequel. MORE PRUNELLA, MOAR FAMILIARS PLEASE. <3

  3. Whoa, did you draw the cover? That is amazing!!! :D

    This book sounds pretty awesome, especially with its attention to societal themes like colonialism and racism. I love that layer of depth in stories that make it worth reading. Although I’m not a big fan of slow beginnings, it seems like the development later on makes it a wonderful book. Nice review!

    • Hi Aila! Yes I did, thank you so much!!

      Ooooh if you love books with those two topics in it, I’d definitely recommend. The colonialism is more subtle than the racism (in terms with how it manifests in the novel) but it tastes like justice.

      Yess soldier through the beginning and it’ll definitely be worth your while. <3 Thank you!

  4. Pingback: Book Recs: Fantasy by Asian Authors | Read, Think, Ponder

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