Today I am going to review the upcoming Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, a book that filled me with mixed emotions. The book is a historical fiction set in a period that is very similar to the famous Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, namely, England during the Napoleonic wars. However, while the two books share a setting and a similar English charm, that is where most of the similarities end.
Sorcerer to the Crown is about two characters, Zacharias and Prunella, as they navigate all sorts of twists and turns in the plot. Zacharias is the adoptive son of the previous Sorcerer to the Crown, a title held by the head of England’s magic group, and at the start of the book has just become the Sorcerer to the Crown himself in the wake of his adoptive father’s death. He has just begun a two fold task of trying to prove himself as deserving of the esteemed title, and to solve an increasingly large problem; that England’s magic supply from the fae is slowly disappearing for an undiscovered reason. However, there is also the fact that Zacharias is African and the first ever black magician in society in a time where that is frowned upon (to put it lightly). This adds a really well written element of dealing with racism to his character and for me did a great job of providing a POV of a character struggling to be judged on his merits instead of his skin color. On top of this, Zacharias is just a likable character. He is quiet, thoughtful, clever, wise, patient and generally a good human being. I enjoyed every moment with Zacharias and wanted to read about him all the time.
And then we have Prunella. Now Prunella certainly wasn’t unlikable or poorly written, I just found her lacking when compared to Zacharias. Prunella is a young woman with a mysterious past who was abandoned at a school to help you women curb their ability to cast magic (which is seen as unseemly). She is unhappy with her lot, and has grand plans to make her way to London and find a husband. She quickly realizes that she is an exceptionally powerful magic caster and decides she would like to try her hand at being a sorcerer as well. There is a very easy comparison between both Zacharias and Prunella because they are both going through large trials where society is telling them they can be who they want to be. However, while I found Zacharias’s story empowering and thrilling, I found Prunella’s repetitive and frustrating. This is exacerbated by the fact that the book begins with a heavy focus on Zacharias, and slowly shifts that focus to Prunella instead, causing a noticeable drop in my love of the book as I went on.
That being said, even with the drop I still found the book very enjoyable. In particular, I think Zen Cho has a real talent for revealing new information. She works in twists and reveals in such a matter-of-fact manner, as though everyone other than you knew a side character was a unicorn the whole time, that they hit all the harder and made me laugh and grin with each twist. The plot of the book is interesting, and I thought the books usage of the fae world was standout compared to a lot of its competitors. In addition, despite my focus on Zacharias and Prunella, there is an impressive cast of side characters that are well developed, fun, and add a lot to the story.
While it ended up not being the story I thought I was, it was a pretty good story none the less. I will likely read the sequels and have already recommended it to a few friends. So if you like historical fiction, are looking for a fix similar to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel, or want protagonists who aren’t white farm boys, I recommend checking out Sorcerer to the Crown.