by Zen Cho
(Longest absence yet! But I’m hoping to post more often.)
I was traveling around on a vacation last week and I ended up buying two books quite randomly at a bookstore. This book caught my eye, partially because of Naomi Norvik’s recommendation on the cover. I read the first page and was hooked.
Sorcerer to the Crown is Zen Cho’s debut novel. It’s a fantasy set in Regency England. Zacharias Wythe, a young African-British magician, has just become Sorcerer Royale of Britain, much to the dismay of, well, everybody. While attempting to solve the problem of England’s fading magical supply, he meets Prunella Gentlewoman, a half-white (her background is a spoiler) charge of a girl’s school with a mysterious past and many unfeminine traits, also to the dismay, of, well, everybody. Together, they’ll face fairies, ghosts, and Wodehouse-worthy aunts to get England set right again.
This book is amazing. It’s written in a Jane Austen-esque style, enough to put you in the Austen mindset but with full acknowledgement of the modern audience – less convoluted sentences, more nods to modern day improprieties, and less modest vagueness. (I had actually just finished listening to Emma when I read this; it was shocking how much it sounded like Austen!) Cho writes with a charming lightheartedness. Despite the Austen-like style, this is an adventurous fantasy. The plot twist and turns and takes you on a merry romp. I bought in completely to both the period setting and the fantasy elements; not an easy task! It was the perfect escapism book; I read a lot of it sitting in an outdoor hot tub in a garden and I couldn’t have picked a more perfect book for the setting.
Without ever deviating from tone or style, Cho directly portrays the racism and sexism the main characters face. The book never becomes about racism or sexism, but it never loses sight of the characters’ experiences as people of color. As all great fiction should, it immerses you in the experience of living someone else’s life; Cho does this masterfully.
And yet, every book has its faults. In particular, the pacing on this book is just too fast. I was expecting it to turn into a trilogy or at least a duo due to the number of plotlines that were popping up and the air of importance around so many of them. I figured one would get tied up in this book and we’d get a nice big clue about the next one, but instead, nearly everything gets resolved. It was too much for the second half of the book and I wanted things to slow down. Everything was plotted well, but I needed more time to explore each of the plot elements – at least one more book’s worth of time!
In short, this book is both fantastic and highly original. If you’re at all into fantasy, but especially if you love the style of Regency romances and fantasy, or if you’ve been on the hunt for something new, great, and unusual, this book is definitely for you. However, if you’re looking for elaborate world-building, really value pacing in an adventure/action story, or want a deep dive into the social justice issues intrinsic to her choice of main characters, this, sadly, may not be the book for you.