The debut fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho surprised and delighted me. It is set in our own world, in the time of Napoleon. It reminded me a bit of Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series (without the Dragon Corps). There is a border between the human world and Fairy, from which great sorcerers in the past have been able to call familiars.
The two main characters are both people of color. Zacharias Wythe is now the Sorcerer Royal, an unlikely occupation for an African former slave. His mentor Sir Stephen purchased him when he was a child, noting a potential for magic. (Sir Stephen did not, however, see fit to purchase his parents at the same time.) There is much prejudice against and distrust of Zacharias because of the color of his skin and his background. Unfounded rumors that Zacharias murdered his mentor are spread. Several times while reading Sorcerer to the Crown I thought of Barack Obama and the prejudice and persistent rumors he has faced as President of the United States.
Prunella Gentlemen is the daughter of an English gentlemen and an unknown mother from India. She has been helping Mrs. Daubney run a magic school for girls. The point of the school is, of course, to keep the girls from using magic, since everyone knows girls are not fit to use magic. Prunella, however, is especially magical, and Mrs. Daubney hasn’t mind when Prunella used her magic to benefit the school. But when an unfortunate incident embarrasses Mrs. Daubney, she orders Prunella to conduct herself in accordance with her station, to stop mixing with the young ladies at the school and to start taking her meals in the kitchen with the servants.
Zacharias and Prunella must work together and learn to trust each other as they navigate perils and politics. I liked reading about two powerful people of color dealing with prejudice while the entitled people around them are clueless as to how insulting their attitudes are. The author did a good job of world building. I enjoyed the historical fiction aspect and didn’t mind the politics. Zacharias and Prunella are interesting and imperfect, and some plot twists took me by surprise. There is romance, but it is subtle and charming.
The writing in the first part of the book seemed much more mature and polished than the chapters toward the end. Maybe the author rewrote the first chapters of the book more times, or an editor spent more time on them. I wasn’t exactly disappointed in the ending but did feel the quality of the writing dropped off a bit. Still, I recommend Sorcerer to the Crown to fans of historical and adventure based fantasy.
I read an advance reader copy of Sorcerer to the Crown. It is scheduled to be published on September 1, 2015. It will be available in the Galesburg Public Library's new fiction area and as an ebook.