Title and Author: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Publication Date: September 2015
How I got it: Originally read the eBook from the library, but recently won the OSPB copy from the Mookychick website. Thanks Mookychick!
Sorcerer to the Crown is an absolute blast.
Set in regency era England, Zacharias is a freed slave, and a sorcerer. His adopted father Stephen, Sorcerer Royal and member of England’s exalted group of sorcerers, freed Zacharias as a child and raised him as his own son, training him in magic. At Stephen’s death, Zacharias takes up the staff of Sorcerer Royal, but despite his obvious abilities and overwhelming kindness, many in the society despise him because of the color of his skin. Yet he is above all else noble, so even in the face of discrimination and pettiness, he acts with benevolence and generosity, which can be infuriating sometimes! His greatest strength as a human being is also his Achilles heel—nobility can be taken too far, and in a society ready to take advantage of those seen as ‘lesser beings,’ his self-sacrificing nature is abused by many.
Magic has become scarce in England, and Zacharias knows that the fairy realm—where magic comes from—must be the cause. As a favor to a friend, on his way to the border between England and fairyland to investigate, he stops by a magic school for girls to give a speech. Women, especially ladies, aren’t allowed to practice magic, so at the school the girls are taught how to suppress their magical tendencies, in ways that are often dangerous. Horrified by what he sees, Zacharias decides reform is essential, and he must start a school so women can properly learn magic and take their places beside male sorcerers.
Enter Prunella, just the woman to be his first student. Of mixed heritage, she’s spunky as hell, and the smartest, most talented magician Zacharias, or England, has ever seen. When she follows him to the border of fairyland, she takes over his story and shows how women can be the masters of their own destinies, not merely the sidekick and helper. With magical familiars of her own, she’s ready to take on the world. Where Zacharias is noble, self-sacrificing, and prudish, Prunella is arrogant, driven, and a blast. She’s exactly what England and Zacharias need, and her arrogance is balanced by compassion, something both she and Zacharias share. But this is no romance. Sorcerer to the Crown is an adventure story.
It’s impossible not to make comparisons between Sorcerer and the Crown and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, since both are set in Regency England during a magic shortage. Sorcerer contains everything that’s missing from Strange—women, POC, multicultural magic. And it’s a more engaging and driven narrative. I’ve never heard anyone say of Strange, “Well, that was a lot of fun!” but it’s impossible not to say that about Sorcerer. Obviously, fun is not the end all be all of fiction; I enjoy a lot of giant, slow books. And I admire Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel, but if you left Strange with reservations (like I did), then you should definitely check out Sorcerer. It doesn’t adhere as much to the language style of Regency-era England as Strange does, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it definitely makes it more approachable. Its approachability makes me think it would make a great gateway fiction between YA and adult fiction, for those teens who loved Harry Potter and the like, but are ready to venture away from the YA shelves.
But whether you’re an adult or a teen, if you love fantasy, or even less obvious fantasies like The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, then you should read Sorcerer to the Crown. Because of its fast, engaging pace, it’d make a great airport or beach read, or that kind of read to get you through that hump when you haven’t been able to finish anything for a while.
On a side note, this is just the kind of fantasy I wish I saw more of on the big screen. Would make an awesome film.