November 4, 2015 by mmileti
Set in an alternate historical Regency England where magicians hold a place of prestige in society, Sorcerer to the Crown has prose that reflects the novel’s antiquated setting combined with the pacing of a highly engaging adventure. With significant themes including isolation and prejudice, it is definitely a thought-provoking novel, but Cho’s sense of the whimsical and her often light-hearted storytelling ensure that it is a quick and easy read. Though this book is often compared to Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I found Sorcerer to the Crown to be a more enjoyable, less laborious read, with a better sense of the absurd. This is the perfect read for those looking for a feel-good fantasy that is still smart and original.
One of the best elements of this novel is the protagonist, Zacharias Wythe. Freed from slavery as a small child by a prominent English sorcerer, Zacharias struggles to gain acceptance and respect from his fellow sorcerers, and society in general, who look down on him because of his background and the color of his skin. When he suddenly inherits the position of Sorcerer to the Crown, the most exalted position a sorcerer can achieve, his whole world starts to fall apart. In order to escape the persecution of colleagues who are trying to unseat him from his position, he ventures to the border of Fairyland in hopes of discovering why the influx of magic into England has stopped. On the way he meets Prunella Gentleman, a young woman whose magical prowess is both forbidden and far more powerful than he could have imagined. Together they will attempt to save England from threats both magical and mundane, all the while fighting against the prejudice of a society that sees them as inferior.
Zacharias and Prunella are both complex characters who, despite their quirks, are incredibly easy to root for. Both characters are betrayed and persecuted, but still ache to put trust in those who may or may not be deserving. Their struggles give depth to the novel in a way that challenges the reader to think about these issues on a much larger scale. They both become endearing to the reader not only through their struggles, but with their contrasting personalities that clash in unsuspecting and often humorous ways. Prunella in particular adds plenty of hilarity to the novel through her biting wit and her absolute refusal to accept society’s restrictions on women (which tends to get her into the most absurd situations). Zacharias is a much more subdued and subtle character than Prunella, but his intelligence and pure intentions lead him to take on the burden of London’s magical problems, and his status as an outcast leaves him with very few people to turn to for help. It is the combination of these two opposite approaches that will finally allow Zacharias and Prunella a way to fight for a bright future for London’s magical society.
Despite Cho’s addition of complex themes, Sorcerer to the Crown is in many ways an intelligent comedy. Though this is often the result of quick-witted dialogue, I also must commend Cho’s subtle addition of humor into her prose. Her subtle commentary on British imperialism is amusing and apt, and the magical beings Zacharias and Prunella come in contact with are light and imaginative in a way that often caused me to laugh out loud. Those looking for a darker or more epic fantasy will surely be disappointed, but as far as fantasy set in the Regency era, this novel is one of the most engaging and entertaining that I have read.
My Rating: 8/10
I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and the publisher in return for an honest review.