book reviews by Althea

Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho *****

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Sorcerer to the Crown
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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 on 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.

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