Thursday, April 14, 2016

REVIEW | Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: Fantasy, Alternate History
Series: Sorcerer Royal #1 
Awards: None
Format: Hardback from Library
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  It seemed like a book written expressly for me - alternate British history with magic and a Jane Austen-esque style.  Pretty much everything I've ever wanted in life.  Plus it has gotten lots of love from book bloggers.

Synopsis: Regency Era England.  Zacharias Wythe is a young man and magician, freed from slavery as a child by the Sorcerer Royal of England who adopted and taught him the art of magic.  He's a very dutiful and honor-bound gentleman and so when his mentor dies suddenly and the mantle of the Sorcerer Royal is passed to him, he accepts it with reluctance but also with a powerful drive to do his duty well.  Also reluctant to accept Zacharias as the Sorcerer Royal is the Society of Magicians who don't like a black man yielding magic nor being a leader in their very snooty community.  Despite much opposition, Zacharias does his best at his new job, including traveling to the border of Faery to try and figure out why England no longer has much magic at its disposal.  Along the way he stops at a girls boarding school meant to suppress the abilities of  magical females who may be even more disliked by the magical community than Zacharias.  He immediately sees that his assumption that women had only weak magic is wrong and takes on one of the strongest students as his apprentice in order to reform magical practice in England.  Hijinks ensue.


I'm not going to be coy - I adored this book!  I have a particular affection  - being an Austenite and a Regency romance junkie - for this particular era of English history during the Napoleonic war.  I've heard others say that this is what they wish Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell had been and I endorse that feeling as well. This book captures the societal quirks and formality of the time while also telling a page-turning story (something JS and MN lacked).  It is a perfect balance of historical fiction and fantasy.

As you can probably tell from the synopsis, this book also tackles a few hefty social issues; racism, slavery and sexism.  It once again does a great job of balancing this weightier material with plot.  As with Austen, which was undoubtedly one of the book's influences, it casts a critical eye on society while also being slyly funny. Also while the issues are dealt with, sometimes quite affectingly, the book never stops being a good story.  Sir Stephen is Zacharias' mentor and someone he looks on as a father with affection but his feelings for his adopted family and country are far from simple.
" ...'She foresaw what would occur if Europe were to discover her people's wealth: the interference in their affairs; the miserable increase of bloodshed and oppression.'
Sir Stephen went white, then red.
'Need I remind you that you are England's Sorcerer Royal?' he said 'Your title will on occasion demand the exercise of power - even, where necessary, what you are pleased to call oppression and bloodshed. But that is the nature of your office. You are called upon to advance the good of this nation, and none other. Your allegiance is not to magic alone, nor to all humanity, but to your own portion of humanity, to the country that nurtured you - '
'And enslaved my parents?' said Zacharias."
And Zacharias?  I really really loved him. He is smart and sensitive, a thinker, and he has this strong sense of duty and a moral fortitude to do the right thing even when it is hard.  He is a little too respectful of society's conventions, but he thinks he can be most effective working within those conventions to bring about real change to the things that really matter.  He's reserved and formal and also a fearless magician.  I think one of the main things that attracts me to him is that he is a true blue introvert. True introverts are one in a million as fantasy novel protagonists so I just really connected with him.
"But Zacharias knew himself to be unfitted for public life by both disposition and inclination. The role of secretary to Sir Stephen fitted him perfectly, for it comprised what was, in his judgment, the most interesting parts of the work of Sorceror Royal: research, the invention of new formulae , and the working out of technical problems presented by the government an society, all carried out with a minimum of intercourse with the outside world."
Despite being forced to operate outside of his comfort zone, he does his job so he can work towards true change and justice.  Sigh.... He's awesome and pretty dreamy.

Sadly I did not find it all puppies and rainbows but most of my niggles, but one, were small like the fact that the prose at times seemed a little forced as if the author was trying a little too hard to capture the Regency era language.

The big niggle for me was that as much as I loved Zacharias, I did not connect with the female protagonist, Prunella.  I'm a big a fan of a strong female character and Prunella is definitely that.  However, she is also impulsive, reckless, mercenary almost to the edge of sociopathy, rude and thoughtless.  I think the two characteristics that rubbed me the wrong way is the reckless and impulsive.  I tend towards the other end of the spectrum of these traits and when a character displays them and in a way that hurts other characters,  I am completely turned off.  Prunella is not completely sans feelings and she does in the end make things right but I spent the majority of the book wanting to slap her.  As a result I also really didn't buy into the romance between she and Zacharias.  Not connecting with Prunella was a pretty personal thing for me so I don't think it will be a problem for most readers AND it didn't ruin the book for me, not by a longshot.

FINAL VERDICT:  If you like fantasy and stories set in England during the Napoleonic wars, this book is a must read.  Even if you aren't a fan of those things, this book has a lot to offer with an active story, a fantastic and complex protagonist and a unique handling of race and gender politics. 4 out of 5 Stars.

Other Opinions Are Available: NPR | The Bibliosanctum | Sarah Felkar

No comments:

Post a Comment