Prunella Gentleman is my patronus and Zen Cho a new favourite author.
Author: Zen Cho
Publisher: Ace / Macmillan
Publication Date: September 2015
Paperback: 416 pages
In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite…
The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession…
At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, 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…
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Sorcerer to the Crown Trilogy
How did I get this book: Review Copy from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print
Why did I read this book: Look at that cover art! And I loved Zen Cho’s short stories for a while now. Plus, Regency, romance and magic!
Delightful books are delightful.
I am completely, utterly enamoured with Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho’s first novel. A wonderful and charming book that pays homage to Regency romances and Fantasy novels at the same time that interrogates some of the problematic aspects of those genres in regards to race and gender. It’s like this book was written for me.
Zacharias Whyte is a freed slave and a talented magician who just so happens to have recently become Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers of Britain. His fellow magicians are not exactly happy about it because Zacharias is not only a black man and not exactly a gentleman but also the events surrounding his mastery of the Sorcerer Royal’s Staff (that only answers to the One True SR) are shrouded in mystery. WHAT exactly happened that night, everybody wonders. And so the magicians and sorcerers whisper and gossip and plot behind Zacharias’ back because that is the polite thing to do, as we know. Microagressions are always the way to go too. And Zacharias knows everything about those.
Within the story, there is a truth universally acknowledged that:
England’s scarcity of magic was a matter of common knowledge among the magical.
What with the magic no longer freely flowing from fairyland and the number of familiars declining to the point where no magician has even seen a familiar in ages. The familiars are magical creatures from fairyland that devote their lives to the service of a magician (at a Great Cost) who is then considered a sorcerer. This is the Right and Proper way of doing things, of course.
But ANYWAYS, the lack of magic is terrible and the magicians have been anguishing over that and trying to hide it from the Government because magic and the status quo are directly connected and even though the Sorcerer Royal should be independent from politics this is really Zacharias being completely naïve and a fool for believing that POWER is as uncomplicated as that.
And here is the funny thing about this so called scarcity of magic: because if you move your eyes away from London and the Unnatural Philosophers and the gentlemen and look at other places – like the school for gentlewitches where “inconveniently magical daughters” are sent to learn restraint because women’s bodies and little brains simply can’t cope with magic as everybody knows – you will see magic abounds, really. But inappropriate magic doesn’t count.
“Shameless, impudent, meddling females, who presumed to set at naught the Society’s prohibition on women’s magic, and duped the common people with their potions and cantrips!”
HAHAHA. This book, it is awesome. Because that’s the setup and we know that something awesome is going to happen to disprove that. Like have a myriad of different women from all over the world, doing amazing things from heroism to villainy – the women are the ones to move the plot along, and to sort out all the problems.
Zacharias Whyte, SORCERER ROYAL: secondary character.
Enter Prunella Gentleman. WOMAN.
An orphaned, mixed race, half-Indian WOMAN.
Who has more magic in her little finger than many gentlemen in their entire bodies. Who knows how to wield such magics in ways that are preposterously dangerous, completely outrageous and incredibly cool.
Prunella, who has something like a thousand familiars. OK, I exaggerate but this is an important point because of the ways that it’s all connected to history, power and family.
Prunella Gentleman who has the guts and fortitude to do anything to get what she wants. And those who dare stand in the way and tell her she can’t because of her gender?
Prunella is all like: I shall do what I please, SIR. *saves England*
Prunella had once thought life in London would be all flirting and balls and dresses, hitting attentive suitors on the shoulder with a fan, and breakfasting late upon bowls of chocolate. She sighed now for her naïveté. Little had she known life in London was in fact all hexes and murder and thaumaturgical politics, and she would always be rising early for some reason or other!
Prunella, incorrigible busybody. Who meets Zacharias and then nothing will ever be the same again. And I just love the dynamics between Zacharias and Prunella and even though the romance is an obvious (but super welcomed) development, the subtlety of it is delicious especially in how Zacharias is anything but ambitious while Prunella could easily run the universe. An example of an interaction between them:
Your amoral ingenuity in the pursuit of your interest is perfectly shocking,” said Zacharias severely. “Yes, isn’t it?” said Prunella, pleased.
“Said Prunella, pleased”.
*_* Prunella Gentleman, you are my patronus.
When talking about the book and its inspirations and influences, Zen Cho most commonly mentions Susannah Clarke and Georgette Heyer’s regencies but there is one work that I thought about the most when reading Sorcerer to the Crown. In many ways I think this book is in direct conversation with another sensational read from earlier this year, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, especially with the way that both novels examine the relationship between power and class, between power and the social strata which inevitably places women in a subordinate position within the status quo. Both books question and subvert this really well and look at the ways that women create and wield magic. Both books converse with feminism and with topical issues within SFF and they are both incredibly light, delightful, charming and friendly in ways that we don’t usually see in mainstream Fantasy.
This has been an incredible year for reading so far. Sorcerer to the Crown is another favourite and a strong top 10 contender.
Rating: 9 – Damn near perfect