Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up.
But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…
Reviewed from ARC provided by Pan Macmillan.
I am always rather partial to Alternate Historical Fantasy. It melds my love of fantasy and historical fiction into one book, and I am in most circumstances a rather happy camper. When you blend in stylistic features and dialect that is comparable to authors of the time period, I become extraordinarily happy. Therefore, Sorcerer To The Crown made me pretty darned joyous!
Sorcerer is set in an alternative/fantasy/magical regency era Britain, in which English Magic Faces It's Darkest Hour. Although I rarely like to compare books, I think in this case it would be worthwhile to give some perspective on where Sorcerer sits in the wide and ranging field of fantasy. It's very reminiscent of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, with a dash of Glamourist Histories, Temeraire and a Wodehouse/Wilde tongue in cheek feel; everything is just a little bit exaggerated to really exacerbate the ridiculousness and precociousness of nobility, class and politics.
Don’t be deceived though, Zen Cho doesn’t focus too much on the romantic side of the time period, that many tend to associate with books on the regency era. There are balls, pretty dresses, carriage rides and fainting ladies, absolutely! What’s more important though, is that within the first 10% of the book, the real underlying social issues of the era are quickly brought to the fore: racism, classism, sexism, war, politics.. And, for added measure magicism (well, that's what I am calling it at any rate!)!
With both main characters, Prunella and Zacharias, being people of colour in the still very classically white class system of England, you get to view the injustices of the time period served out from their perspective, which is somewhat rare. There’s usually a light shone on it from a white character's point of view, which is well and good (something is always better than nothing!), however it is much more powerful coming from the pov of the person experiencing the bigotry.
With Prunella also being a ‘problematic female’ you get an extra dose of how being a POC and female can be a rather harrowing mix. If that isn’t quite enough, when the magic system also disallows females to do magic, and the troublesome female is also one of England's strongest magicians, you get to see just how many walls are erected to keep people in their place, in this alternative version of England.
The characters, Zacharias and Prunella could not be further apart in their disposition, and it’s very interesting to watch them bounce off each other; or more accurately watch Prunella walk all over Zacharias whist he stands by bamboozled. I get the feeling many readers will probably really enjoy one POV and not the other, because they really are opposite ends of the spectrum. Prunella is headstrong, cheeky, and has a streak of deviousness that she uses to get what she wants without much thought for consequences. Zacharias is reserved, straight laced, works within the bounds of polite society, and is always concerned about his ability to fit in, whilst trying to take the right courses of action. However, I think once the reasons for their differences start to make themselves clear, it’s hard not to warm to them both. Together they make a winning combination, and it’s really a matter of learning about them, before judging them. Along with a cast of supporting characters that will charm the socks of you (maybe literally!), Cho really does write the most fantastic portraits, and sometime caricatures, of this alternate society,
The plot has a bit of a cozy mystery feel, with a sprinkle of romance that is completely charming - but it also leads to one of my only gripes about Sorceror, which is pacing. A cozy mystery in its nature usually does leave the big reveal and fireworks to the very last pages of the book. However, in this case when you add in all the magical elements and the magnitude of how that reveal leads to further events, it felt extremely rushed by the end. When you spend the first two-thirds in a somewhat leisurely ‘getting to know you’ mode, that's a thoroughly enjoyable and incident filled stroll, and then all of a sudden you’re screaming through things to reach the end, it feels a little jaunting!
This book could’ve easily worked another 100 pages (from me, always saying 100 pages less!), and still only just laid things out sufficiently to bring the best out of the subject matters and characters. I am hoping the next book, having gotten all the introductory first book issues out of the way, gives itself more room to breathe!
In all honesty, I am all agog to see where things lead for Prunella and Zacharias. Hopefully, we’ll find out soon..
Rollo and I chowing down on cookies whilst reading Sorcerer to The Crown.. There was also quite a lot of tea drinking involved.