Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown

Author: Zen Cho | Publisher: Pan

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 think I would have fallen in love with Sorcerer to the Crown for its cover alone. It’s such a pretty book, and very tactile with its raised design. Books ought to feel nice to hold, otherwise there really is no argument against the Kindle (and I can’t get on with them). It was also pointed out to me that the layout of author’s name and title made it appear that Zen Cho herself was Sorcerer to the Crown – rather a clever thought about the role of the author, because I suppose she is, in a way.

Fortunately, as it happens, the cover was just the least of all things to love about Sorcerer to the Crown. I can’t find a single thing I dislike about the book.

The characters are universally well fleshed out, interesting, amusing, and occasionally grotesque or unappealing – but in a very human way.

I adore Zacharias. He was suitably frustrating at points, but relatable. Prunella Gentleman (what a fantastic name for a character) has all the qualities of the best heroines: mysterious origins, sass, a sense of humour, strength and originality. She’s also somewhat ruthless, which made her an excellent counterfoil for Zacharias’ slightly more reserved character. The romance between Prunella and Zacharias was obvious and inevitable, but slow burning, and provided several critical “aww” moments. It gave the book some much needed heart.

I love that both main characters are people of colour in what is essentially an alternative Victorian London – a society with even less enlightened views than our own modern society, which only served to underscore the prejudice and to make it pointedly more ridiculous.

The worldbuilding may have been my favourite part of Sorcerer to the Crown. But then, Victorian London is always one of my favourite settings for a book – which helped. Given that this is a setting many of us will already be intimately familiar with, the reader was provided with just enough detail to allow their imagination to run riot. I loved the whole idea of a magician’s society, with its own gentlemen’s clubs and offices and rules, which operates as part of non-magical society, and on the borders of a whole, strange and wonderful, slightly disturbing, fairy realm. This is one of those books where I wanted to dive into the world and walk around it myself (if only we could take holidays in the settings of our favourite books…). The glimpses the reader was given of fairyland and this magical, alternative Victorian England were tantalisingly captivating.

Sorcerer to the Crown is written as a book of the time, using the authentic conventions of language and grammar, and as a device this is done so perfectly that it would be easy to believe it was actually written by a Victorian author. Every single element of the language fits perfectly with other literature of the time and nothing is out of place. At the same time, it straddled a fine line between being authentic, creating the atmosphere in which the reader could suspend their disbelief and allow their imagination to enter into the story, without being overly complicated and unappealing for a modern reader – a very delicate and skilful balance.

The plot itself has a fantastic premise and set up, with great suspense and perfect pacing. Starting off slowly, it moves faster and faster towards its crescendo. It’s a page turner, and quite impossible to put down.

It’s hard to believe this is a debut book with the perfection of the writing, the way the author struck the balance between every element of dialogue and description and action, show and tell, movement of pace. It’s one of those books that makes you question why you bother to write, because, as a writer, it’s a lot to live up to.

All in all, I can easily see why Sorcerer to the Crown won so many awards and accolades; it was absolutely brilliant. This is one I would definitely recommend for any fantasy fan.

5 Archimedes

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