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Sorcerer to the Crown (A Sorcerer Royal Novel) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 1, 2015
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“An enchanting cross between Georgette Heyer and Susanna Clarke, full of delights and surprises. Zen Cho unpins the edges of the canvas and throws them wide.”—Naomi Novik, New York Times bestselling author of the Temeraire novels
“There are several ways in which Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown invites comparison with Susanna Clarke’s bestselling, BBC-adapted Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell…Absolutely everything about this book is delightful…Witty, wise and wonderful, Sorcerer to the Crown is an admirable achievement and a deep delight.”—NPR.org
“A delightful and enchanting novel that uses sly wit and assured style to subvert expectations while it always, unfailingly, entertains. I loved it!”—Kate Elliott, author of the Spiritwalker series
“A deliciously true tale of politics and power in a charming, cruel world—it demands and deserves to be read again and again. Cho has humor and flair to match Pratchett and Heyer plus her own marvelous style.”—Karen Lord, author of The Best of All Possible Worlds
“Inventive, dangerous, brilliant, unsettling, and adorable, all at the same time. It shatters as many rules as its characters do. Historical Britain will never be the same again, and I can't wait for the next book.”—Courtney Milan, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
“Sorcerer to the Crown felt like Pride and Prejudice but with magic and race, which makes Zen Cho Austen crossed with Susanna Clarke and Ignatius Sancho…I am utterly in love.”—Tor.com
“Set in an alternate, magical England during the Napoleonic Wars, Cho’s debut novel is at once a comedy of manners and a sharp metacomment concerning racism and misogyny in the fantasy genre...A classic, gently barbed upper-crust comedy mixed with magical thrills, modern social consciousness, and a hint of political intrigue. A decidedly promising start.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Cho weaves drama and humor together seamlessly in this tale of a magic-drenched Napoleonic-era Britain...Sorcerer to the Crown establishes Cho as a superior novelist of note.”—RT Book Reviews (Top Pick)
“Cho's delightful debut novel skillfully blends fantasy and intrigue with issues of race and gender politics...Cho's tale knits together a dizzying array of taut story lines populated by complex characters with interesting backstories. Zacharias brings to mind another orphaned young wizard whose combination of grit and melancholy captured readers' hearts, and ingenious, gutsy Prunella simply shines.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“A captivating debut that, aside from examining both gender and racial prejudice, tells an entertaining story with wit and consummate skill.”—The Guardian (UK)
About the Author
Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia, and currently lives in London. She was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a nominee for the Pushcart Prize, and her short story collection Spirits Abroad was a joint winner of the Crawford Fantasy Award. Sorcerer to the Crown is her first novel.
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This is in the currently-popular historical British fantasy genre, and has one *very* important distinction: it manages to face head-on the awful sexism and racism of the era, without ever letting it get in the way of the story's pacing, and uses it to build very rich and complex characters. The book's hero, in particular, is completely relatable, very sympathetic, and has entirely realistically complicated feelings about several of the important people in his life as well as about his own situation. (The heroine is delightful, but I've seen more strong-female-characters-taking-on-a-sexist-system lately than strong-Black-characters-taking-on-a-racist-system lately, and I would expect a more mature Cho to do a slightly better job in building her character up smoothly.)
The comparisons to Susana Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell are inevitable. Both are books about magicians and fairies in Regency era England. Both deal with returning magic to England. Both explore the ideas of who is allowed access to magic. While there are similarities between the two, I’d say that Sorcerer to the Crown is it’s own book. People who like Clarke’s book might like Cho’s, but people who hated Clarke’s book might love Cho’s, especially given the differences in tone and writing style. Sorcerer to the Crown is a much more accessible book that never takes itself too seriously. The result is delightful.
"I might go anywhere and do any magic I pleased if I were Peter, not Prunella."
Society in Sorcerer to the Crown deems magic to be a fit career only for gentlemen. They ignore the lower class people who practice magic and expound upon the dangers of female magicians, whose bodies are “too frail” to hold the necessary magic. Both our protagonists are excluded from the qualification of “gentlemen” and face many struggles as a result.
Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking,” said Zacharias severely.
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Prunella, pleased.
Characterization was overall well done, but only Prunella really stole my heart. I love Prunella! She is smart and determined, a force to be reckoned with. While she cannot imagine living without her magic, Prunella does not at first see any point in studying it. She grew up at a school for gentlewitches, where young women are taught to repress their magical abilities. She’s seen the results of what happens to women with magic, and she thinks the only path to success in life for a woman is marriage. Especially for Prunella, a half-Indian girl stuck between classes, this seems her only chance.
Prunella took to the ballrooms of London in the spirit of ruthless calculation of a general entering a battlefield.
It surprises me just how quickly I read Sorcerer to the Crown. It’s a middling sized fantasy book, just under four hundred pages, and yet I read it in less than twenty four hours. It wasn’t so much the plot that drew me in but the characters and world that Cho had created. This is a truly excellent debut novel. Oh, and as a bonus, there’s dragons!
I give Sorcerer to the Crown a strong recommendation, particularly for anyone who likes fantasy of manners, historical fiction, or diverse characters. However, Sorcerer to the Crown should really appeal to anyone looking for an engaging book that will make them smile.
Someone like Zacharias Wythe should never have been allowed to become Sorcerer Royal. Born to slaves, Zacharias’ skin color is enough for many to draw their conclusions about him. As a young boy, he was taken in by Sir Stephan Wythe, former Sorcerer Royal before his death. Zacharias has spent his life as an outsider, excelling at magic despite the skepticism from members of the Society. Despite what his detractors may think of him, Zacharias is a proficient sorcerer. Unlike his colleagues, he does not use his power or influence for any sort of personal gain, but is always thinking of how he can help England and her dwindling source of magic. He’s used to relying on himself and not expecting a lot of help from others. His feelings toward his benefactor and his role as Sorcerer Royal are complicated. There’s affection and gratefulness, but he has also suffered a great deal because of prejudice. I loved that this historical fantasy addressed issues of racism. Often times these books focus on white characters and we get an incomplete version of the time when slavery and colonialism played key roles in how the world operated.
Prunella Gentleman is a character I immediately took to. She’s bright, cheeky, and isn’t one to back down. At Mrs. Daubeney’s School for Gentlewitches, Prunella has taken on many roles. Her father passed away when she was younger and she’s been under the care of Mrs. Daubeney. Mrs. Daubeney was familiar with Prunella’s father, who spent a considerable time in India where he met Prunella’s mother, but save for his name, Prunella knows nothing substantial about either of them. Many do not know what to make of the young lady, who’s brown skin and features speak of foreign origin, but who speaks as well as any English girl. In England, women are not allowed to practice magic, so instead they are taught to suppress their talents. Still, in a school full of magically-inclined young ladies a hex or two is known to be thrown. Unlike Zacharias, Prunella is prone to act before thinking. She is resourceful and strong-willed, but undeniably reckless. Magic has always been a part of who she is, but more than anything, she wishes for some sort of security in her life. In Zacharias, she finds an unlikely friend who understand the misgivings that come with being a part of a world that never wholly accepts you.
Cho’s writing made me fall immediately into this world. I loved how Cho combined magic and politics, showing that power and prejudice can have a huge influence on people’s views of the world. Sorcerer to the Crown is full of complex characters that are easy to fall in love with, an intricate world that addresses both racism and sexism, and is surprisingly amusing on top of all of this.