Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

I’ve been hearing about Zen Cho’s novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, for months, ever since Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot raved about it. Once again, she has not steered me wrong. Sorcerer to the Crown is stuffed with so many of the things I love in fiction: outrageous women, mysterious alternate histories, magic, political intrigue and plots, and bantering protagonists. Even if Cho’s novel didn’t contain deeper things about racism and sexism, I would have been sold on the book. I loved this book.

Zacharias Wythe has just become England’s Sorcerer Royal and no one is happy about it, himself included. He’s inherited a mess, with England’s magic apparently on the wane. The fact that the rest of England’s magicians hold the color of his skin against him make the whole thing just that much more difficult. Oh, and someone is trying to kill him. As if this wasn’t enough, he has to take time out of his busy schedule to figure out how to help a sultan deal with an infestation of lamiae and give a speech at a girl’s school for magical suppression.

Our second protagonist, Prunella Gentleman, is an unpaid employee at the school Zacharias visits. The school was created to help girls suppress their magical abilities as current thinking holds that it would be too much for the delicate female constitution. (The recurrence of this particular bit of poppycock had me snorting so often and forcefully that I’ve cleared my sinuses better than a dose of Chinese mustard.) The “education” isn’t entirely successful, because the girls keep performing magic. Their antics and Prunella’s discovery of her magical inheritance inspire Zacharias to propose that women should be educated in magic—a reform that is sure to give apoplexies to a significant percentage of his magical colleagues.

Once the various A- and B-plots get going, this book never slows down. It’s a wonder Zacharias and Prunella ever get a chance to catch their breathes. I certainly didn’t. This book really ought to feel overstuffed, but it doesn’t. This book is so thoughtful that even though events tend towards the madcap at times—what with the dragons, cloud-riding, and magico-legal wraggling—it never spins out of control. The fact that Zacharias faces so much casual racism for being black and Prunella gets a double dose for being female and of Indian descent keeps the more fantastical elements of the book firmly grounded.

When I logged this book on Goodreads, I was thrilled to see the notation next to the title that Sorcerer to the Crown was the first book in a named series. The spectacular ending and the heartwarming epilogue on top of all this book’s charms (sorry about the pun) have completely sold me on this series. I will be eagerly (impatiently) awaiting the sequel.

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