Lou: Sorcerer to the Crown has been on my book-watch list for some time after seeing some early buzz. I adored this book and adored Zacharias, and Prunella even more so! Zacharias is the Sorcerer Royal of Britain. The position and whoever wields it should have the respect the title deserves but that is not the case for Zacharias. Throughout the entire book, Zacharias has to fend of assassination attempts and political maneuverings of outing his position. There are those who think he murdered his predecessor, Sir Stephen, and his familiar, Leofric. But many of thaumaturgicals are against Zacharias because he is black. Zacharias is constantly reminded that he is not deserving of being Sorcerer Royal, and to combat against English society who judge and deem him unworthy as Sorcerer because of the colour of his skin, he remains unflinchingly polite, cordial and diplomatic, to hide his real feelings. I thought Zen Cho created a wonderful and magical charming world while digging into the racist and sexist ugliness of English society against Zacharias and Prunella, who the latter was so confident and fearless in achieving what she wanted.
Marlene: I picked up Sorcerer to the Crown because Lou recommended it, and I’m so glad I did! I read this on the plane to WorldCon, after rejecting the book I intended to read as way too boring. Sorcerer to the Crown was anything but. Also marvelous when the editor at the Ace/Roc showcase highlighted the book and I could “thumbs up” her recommendation.
But seriously, this book was a treat. It reminds me a bit of Goblin Emperor, and that’s saying something. There is a similar plot, in that the unlikeliest heir becomes the most powerful leader, and is unprepared for the role. Also that in both stories, there is a lot of blind prejudice against the protagonists because of their race and heritage. It’s a similar starting point, as both Zacharias in Sorcerer and Maia in Emperor have a challenge just to survive the office they have inherited. The solutions that the two protagonists come to are quite different. While they both have to become their own men as part of their survival, Zacharias does it by finding a better person to become Sorcerer Royal, even if, or especially because, that person is even more of a challenge to previously accepted norms than he is. Maia does it by truly inhabiting the role that was thrust upon him. Zacharias does it by setting his world on its ear.
Lou: Zacharias’ power was evident from very first pages. He was able to do marvelous feats of magic at such an early age of life. From the very beginning he was subjected to taunts and ridicule and hatred by thaumaturgicals (what you call magicians, but not sorcerers) and Zacharias also had to hide his feelings from Sir Stephen because he never understand why Sir Stephen never brought his mum and dad with him, and left them to what I assume was a continuous life of slavery. He was always worried–and understandably so–that if he ever let his anger show that he would be discarded or unwanted. Though he knew how much Sir Stephen and Lady Wythe loved him and vice versa, there was always this worry in his mind.
Marlene: One of the lovely, and sometimes jarring in a good way, things about Sorcerer to the Crown is that it is an alternate Regency story that doesn’t just deal with the alternate Napoleonic Wars, but also with the attitudes of the British Raj and British colonialism and everything else. In this story, the war with France is something not to be provoked, part of the conflict is between the local equivalent of the chickenhawks and those who have enough sense to avoid mutually assured destruction.
So much of the story revolves around the lack of respect for anyone not British, especially colonials. Everyone not English is automatically considered a savage. Zacharias, as a freed slave, frequently faces a society that cannot let itself believe that he has the talent to become Sorcerer Royal, because they see him not just as not really British, but honestly as not really human.
Lou: Zacharias and Prunella were relentlessly reminded of their un-Britishness. If they had spoken back or challenged English society it would have made their lives even more harder against society who already deemed them, as Marlene said above, not human. Even when Zacharias became Sorcerer Royal he was still subjected to so much hatred and ugliness, especially from someone whom he once thought a friend.
Marlene: Prunella gets it from two sides. Not only is she considered not really British because she is a woman of color, but as a woman, she isn’t considered to be a thinking person at all. Society conspires on every turn to treat her as “less than” when in reality she is “more than” in almost every way.
It’s also an important plot point that all of the problems that England is having with its magic are related to these issues. The mens are all decrying the evil wimmens who have taken control of an important colony who must be put down at all costs. No one is listening to the women who not only have a real grievance, but also hold all of the real power in this instance. The men who believe they are authority figures are making things worse at every single turn.
There’s a message here that when you denigrate and ignore half your population, it will quite literally bite you in the ass.
Lou: The magical and fantasy Zen Cho created and infused into her story was just wonderful. I adored Prunella who was so fierce and vulnerable at the same time. Prunella’s conspiring (with pretty awesome acting skills :D) to make a success of her life in London was simply delightful. It was adorable how Zacharias was both exasparated and quite smitten with Prunella. The way in which she took agency of her life after the one person in her life let her down showed how resilient she was. And why by the end of the book her position is just perfect.
Marlene: The story starts out slowly. Zacharias has been Sorcerer Royal for three months, and frankly, everything is going downhill fast. He’s in an impossible position and beset on every single side. His friends and allies are deserting him, and it’s clear that he is being set up to take a serious fall. And possibly get assassinated. It’s not just that he is being blamed for the loss of magic, but he’s also been accused of murdering his mentor and the man’s familiar. Because all of this is happening as a whisper campaign, it is difficult to combat, and Zacharias just keeps doing his duty, even though it is not helping the situation.
When he finds Prunella, the story kicks into high gear. She is just a much more dynamic personality than Zacharias. He’s been dutifully slogging along according to the rules, and she just barges in and does the necessary, no matter how bloody it might get. The story needs her to supply its dynamism, every bit as much as Zacharias needs her to be the Sorcerer that he can’t. It’s not so much that she is the yin to his yang as the other way around. She’s the dominant force, which is what makes this story so fascinating.
Lou: It was a role reversal of the Lady being the Knight in Shining Armour. Prunella’s power and magic grows throughout the book and it’s she that has to save Zacharias on many occasions. Prunella also had a streak of ruthlessness that Zacharias never had and what makes her perfect as a Sorcerer. The puddle fight scene was freaking amazing with its imagery and the ending was spectacular, with a surprise reveal about a minor character that had me going YES! If there’s one critique I have of the book is that the beginning was very slow and the pace of the story felt to me sometimes uneven. I also used my Kindle constantly in each chapter because there were many wordy words I never heard before. Actually, that’s a critique of me!
Marlene: In short, I really enjoyed this story. It’s a heroine’s journey, and it’s a heroine’s journey against the odds. It’s also terrific that the person who starts out as the hero ends up as the beta, and wants to be in that place. It’s a concept we don’t see in fiction often enough.
I give Sorcerer to the Crown an A-
Lou: I adored this story and can’t wait for a sequel (I hope there’s a sequel as Prunella has only just started her journey) because I also loved there was a romantic thread running very lightly throughout the book. There aren’t romantic scenes per say but the friendship and attraction between Prunella and Zacharias was lovely, though I could have done with a much stronger kissy scene at the end *grins*
I give Sorcerer to the Crown a B+