Note: I received an e-galley of Sorcerer to the Crown from the publisher for review consideration.
Some brilliant person described this book on Twitter a while ago as a postcolonial Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and I have been all about it ever since. Zen Cho’s debut novel tells the story of Zacharias Wythe, the first ever black Sorcerer to the Crown.
Suspected of involvement in the death of his predecessor, Zacharias becomes enmeshed in a political conflict among magical parties in (what is not yet) Malaysia, fights for his position against an interloper magician recently returned from the realm of Faerie, and tries to sort out what to do about Prunella Gentleman, whose obvious magical abilities make it difficult for Zacharias to uphold the tradition that ladies mustn’t do magic. (Their frail constitutions!)
This book is a damn delight. There’s nothing not awesome about it. If the characters are a little underdeveloped, well, hell, it’s a first novel. And in any case, the sheer delightfulness of the prose and the story, which are as decorous and amusing as a Georgette Heyer novel’s, more than make up for it. The diversity of characters in a book set in Regency England is also incredibly refreshing. As Aarti noted in her excellent review,
THIS IS WHY DIVERSITY IN PUBLISHING IS SO IMPORTANT. How many people would think to combine Indian history with Malaysian folklore, add a healthy dollop of English Faerie, and then make light but awesome references to equal rights for women and people of color?
Just as wonderful is the book’s feminism. The main character is a guy, but Zen Cho has made him something of a Trojan horse. The deeper you go into this story, the more it becomes clear that it’s actually all about the women. This isn’t rare in the fantasy I read, but it’s marvelous to see, in a book set during Historical White Male Timez, how the story can be deeper and funnier and sadder and better by making it about characters other than the default white guys.
All this makes it sound like Sorcerer to the Crown is all ideology and no fun, and nothing could be further from the truth. It’s all fun, a total confection that I was enjoying from the first page and regretted having to leave behind at the last.