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Book Review: Sorcerer to the Crown

Where has England's magic gone? That's the main question In Zen Cho's wonderful debut novel, where a regency era England takes a turn for the fantastical; a turn for the magical. It's up to Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal, strongest magician in the land and the adopted child of black slaves, to work out.

What do you think of when you picture a work of Jane Austen? Etiquette, marriage, manners? Imagine this, with all of her masterful prose to boot, scatter with some fairy dust, and voila, you've got yourself Sorcerer to the Crown.

Some might think a magical drama set in high society England has been done before (think Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell), but there isn't that stuffiness or thick, permeating detail suffused in Clarke’s stories. This book is delightful and light, but that isn't to say it's easy. There's a lot going on beneath the surface. It's as much about the power of women, the strength of difference, and the struggles of the alienated, than it is about men in fancy clothes casting spells...although, it's about that too.

We're introduced to the character of Prunella Gentleman early on and her fiery spirit and gift for magic become apparent rather soon. Being an excellent counterpoint to the current Sorcerer Royal and his somber demeanour, Prunella strives to find her place in the world where magic is closed off from women and where those who have the gift must stifle their abilities if they are to thrive in their respective society. Casting away the shackles of expectation, Prunella defies her gender and her mixed race, and whilst understanding her current place in the world she does not let it define her. Although this may sound like any heroine of any novel published in the last five years, Cho isn't afraid to let Prunella's apparent selfishness push her. When the opportunity arises, she takes it. She wants to be powerful. She wants to attain the same heights as the men. Prunella is no mere gentlewitch.

Cho's research and continuous effort to maintain the liltingly dated writing style must have taken a lot, but it's never at expense of story or character. Both are developed well, with the plot having little, if any, slow points and both Zacharias and Prunella are pleasantly changed by the end. This is a wonderfully entertaining story that is fun, romantic, surprisingly action packed, and, if one desires to look closer, is actually quite deep. If magic or dragons appeals to you, and the world of the cut-throat dangers of high society England take your fancy, then I urge you to pick this up.

Five stars.

 

Written by Jamie Evans

 

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