From GoodReads: At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, freed slave, eminently proficient magician, and Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers—one of the most respected organizations throughout all of Britain—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…
I’ve been intrigued by this book for a long time now, but my library in San Antonio didn’t have an audio copy, and my library in Wisconsin doesn’t have an audio copy, and I really, really wanted to listen to this one on audio. Jenny Sterlin – one of my favorite narrators – reads the audiobook, and I had the sneaking suspicion that listening to her read it would make this book even more magical than it would normally be. Finally, I gave in and bought the Audible version, knowing that if worse came to worst, I could always return it. That will not be a problem. This book was awesome!
I can’t review this book without first remarking on a few similarities. As this is British historical fantasy, with a conflict between various magical ideals, I was reminded in many ways of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Not enough to feel that this was derivative or anything, just enough to remark on, like a nod of respect to Clark’s book. It was the same with the other similarity. The magic – kinda inexplicable and random – reminded me so much of Diana Wynne Jones (and I’m sure Jenny Sterlin’s narration increased that comparison for me, since she read the Howl books). This book didn’t feel like a copy of these in any way. Just like that nod of respect, as I said. Just enough to note.
Because the book was definitely unique. Yes, magic-in-Britain has been done many times, but Cho took that trope and used it as the opener for a discussion. Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal, is insulted, thought incompetent, accused of crimes, and generally dismissed by his government, fellow magicians, and the public – because he’s black. Prunella, probably the most magical person in the story, is treated as a serving girl and undeserving of magic because 1) she’s “half-caste” of uncertain Indian origin, and 2) she’s female, and women can’t and shouldn’t do magic. There’s classism – the lower classes, including women, can do menial magic, but can’t actually learn proper magic, of course! – and imperialism – Britain’s interference in Malaysia – and a general relationship with magical creatures that leans toward slavery. The book is full of politics, but not in a way that stuffs them into your face. You can read deeper, sure, or you can simply read what is quite a fun story of clashing magicians.
My favorite part about the book and what makes me really admire Cho’s writing is the way she handled her main characters. So often in fiction, characters are very likable or they’re unlikable in the extreme. In my experience, it’s rare to come across characters who are lovable but not necessarily likable. Think Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, or Captain Jack Sparrow. They aren’t exactly people you’d want to hang out with in real life, yet you fall in love with them anyway. Some of these characters were the same. Prunella is loud, rude, and ruthless, but absolutely lovable. Mak Genggang is an absolute tyrant prone to violence, and I adore her as well. And so on. The ability to create characters like this, walking that fine balance between love and hate, is in my opinion the mark of an excellent writer.
Though it’s a series, Sorcerer to the Crown is completely standalone, and could be read on it’s own without ever reading further. I have no idea what’s to come in the second book – what parts of magic or the world Cho will explore or what problems magicians will face – but I certainly can’t wait to find out!
Performance: As already stated, Jenny Sterlin read this audiobook, and she’s already one of my favorite narrators. This was, as expected, an amazing performance.