Sorcerer to the Crown

I feel a bit bad about not updating my blog. It’s been a while since I last posted a review, though I’ve only finished one book since.  I’ve been a bit busy with some freelance work, and now, with the Holiday season coming up, there’s always something that needs to be done.  But today, I have some downtime, so I’ll use this opportunity to rant talk about the last book I read.

The last book I read was Zen Cho‘s 2015 debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown.  The novel has been compared to Susanna Clarke‘s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, mainly because it’s about magical gentlemen in Regency or Victorian London, where magic and the use of it is common practice, but in Sorcerer to the Crown, only among the scholarly and wealthy men of The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers.

The protagonist of the novel, Zacharias Wythe, who was an African slave raised and adopted by the former Sorcerer Royal, who is the official Magician of England, has succeeded his foster father and is now the Sorcerer Royal, to the great irritation of his peers.  When England’s magic starts to dwindle, it is Zacharias’ job, as the new Sorcerer Royal, to investigate. But instead of finding the answer, while travelling the countryside of England, he encounters a young lady with considerable magical talent but a questionable background. Because of her great potential, and Zacharias’ wish to reform the old-fashioned practices of the Society, he undertakes to teach Prunella Gentleman and take her on as his apprentice. Zacharias takes Prunella back to London to start her education, but unbeknownst to him and Prunella, she is in possession of magical secrets that could change the fate of magic in England.

In Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho creates a rich, imaginative world of magic and sorcerers.  She creates a London where magic is a tangible resource that can be freely used but also depleted.  She lays down the laws of the use of magic in England as well as the role, functions, and responsibilities of the Sorcerer Royal, who is England’s highest magician.

Despite her imaginative creations and unique characters, unfortunately, I found Sorcerer to the Crown a bit disappointing.  Despite the title, the novel does not mainly focus on Zacharias Wythe and on his life as the Sorcerer Royal. Instead, the novel goes this way and that with different side stories that do not quite fit in nicely together.  The novel tries to combine the characters’ personal issues with big themes, such as politics, racism, gender bias, and class distinctions.  However, because the novel is rather short – just a bit under 400 pages (and I do feel that a novel about magic and society really should be long), I felt that the author’s efforts fell short of providing real, in-depth insights into any of the novel’s different themes and conflicts.

Although it’s a fascinating read for anyone who loves magic and historical fiction, Sorcerer to the Crown will leave readers with more questions than answers.  The only consolation really is that it’s part of a series, and I think I can guess who the focus of the second book will be. I think the story line really has potential, but it will all depend on how the author will write the succeeding installments.


Sorcerer to the Crown (2015) Zen Cho

Ace Books; 371 pages (paperback)

Personal rating:  2.5/5

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