Zacharias Smythe, a former freed slave, has ascended to the highest position in the realm for sorcerers: the Sorcerer Royal. It’s huge for a black man to hold such a position in England, but all is not well: not everyone is happy at what Zacharias has achieved. What’s more, the flow of magic has stopped to the country from Fairyland, and Zacharias must figure out why and how to turn it on again.
I’ve been trying to read more science fiction and fantasy lately. Both are genres I adore in film and TV, but I haven’t really explored either much when it comes to books. That’s been changing quickly, especially as some really great inclusive sci fi and fantasy has been releasing lately, with all kinds of great representation. Such is the case with Zen Cho’s Sorceror to the Crown, set in a Victorian-esque Britain and featuring a black Sorcerer Royal and a young woman who performs magic against her country’s laws.
Let me just say this right now: Sorcerer to the Crown is so incredibly good. It takes a world that is based on our own, but adds magic to it. The same prejudices, the same social constraints, exist as they did 100–200 years ago: racism is firmly in place, and women aren’t allowed to perform magic. The two main characters in this book, Zacharias and Prunella, refuse to be defined by stereotypes and refuse to conform to what society expects of them. It’s fresh and new; these characters are simultaneously very sympathetic and easy to relate to but also incredibly inspiring.
Sorcerer to the Crown takes its sweet time with the story. That’s not to say it’s slow, because I was intrigued the entire time, but you don’t quite know where the novel is going until you’re well into it. Cho takes her time building the world, establishing its fundamentals, before we really know what’s going to happen. This is not a novel that plunges the reader straight into action, nor is it one where you’re thrust into a world you don’t understand, floundering and desperate to glean hints about what’s going on from textual clues. Sometimes that can be fun; more often, it’s quite frustrating, and as a result, I appreciate the care Cho took with her fantasy setting.
I’m not going to go any further into plot with Sorcerer to the Crown because so much of the delight of this novel is not knowing what’s around every corner. Let’s just say that Prunella and Zacharias are both absolutely wonderful characters, and I’m so glad this is the first in a series. Cho left me satisfied with the ending, yet very much wanting to know what comes next for both of these characters. If, like me, you’re looking at picking up more fantasy novels in 2016, this is one you shouldn’t miss.