Sorcerer to the Crown
By Zen Cho
Rating: 5 Stars
‘In Regency London, Zacharias Wythe is England’s first African Sorcerer Royal. He leads the eminent Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, but a malicious faction seeks to remove him by fair means or foul. Meanwhile, the Society is failing its vital duty – to keep stable the levels of magic within His Majesty’s lands. The Fairy Court is blocking its supply, straining England’s dangerously declining magical stores. And now the government is demanding to use this scarce resource in its war with France.
Ambitious orphan Prunella Gentleman is desperate to escape the school where she’s drudged all her life, and a visit by the beleaguered Sorcerer Royal seems the perfect opportunity. For Prunella has just stumbled upon English magic’s greatest discovery in centuries – and she intends to make the most of it.
At his wits’ end, the last thing Zachariah needs is a female magical prodigy! But together, they might just change the nature of sorcery, in Britain and beyond…’
I received an ARC from Netgalley – what follows is my own opinion.
I had a couple of attempts at reading my digital ARC of this book, but I just couldn’t read it on screen. I’m like this about some books – particularly ones with more archaic phrasing – for instance I could never read Dickens or Austen digitally, my brain just doesn’t agree with it.
Thankfully I was able to pick up a hard copy from my local library (and what a beautiful book it is) and then I hate no trouble racing through it.
Slow to start and then astonishingly good.
A lot of people have speculated that is is just a rehash of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I can see why they would ask this in some aspects; the time period of the Napoleonic war, the tension between the politicians and magicians, English magic in crisis… But it’s far from the same book. This is English magic in crisis if magical society was still thriving in the 1700’s and the people who had to fix the problem were on the margins, fighting to be heard.
The sorcerer of the title, Zacharias, exists in a tenuous position. A former slave, he has risen to his current position due to the good graces of his mentor and adopted father. This background creates a great deal of tension between his respect for his father and a deep seated resentment at being taken from his own parents and used as a social experiment. Now, as a retiring scholar thrust reluctantly into the limelight, he is fighting to justify his very existence.
Our second main character – the wonderfully named Prunella Gentleman – feels very Dickensian as a young woman with a mysterious past, hidden away in a girl’s school. But she’s far from the traditional plucky orphan. Prunella is clever, manipulative, ruthless and still somehow incredibly likeable. She’s an utter joy to follow as she makes her own way in the world, regardless of what anyone thinks.
It’s a book full of twists, the girls school is far from traditional and there is a great incident in one of the early chapters that really enhances the narrative. It continues to delight and surprise throughout and very little turns out as you expect; the Malaysian vampire women are a particular delight.
It’s wonderful to see magic from the margins, written with such humour, wry common sense and flare. I adored the ending and really look forward to seeing what Cho does next.