Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Chow
Sorcerer to the Crown is the debut novel of Zen Cho, winning her the 2016 British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer.
The novel is set in Regency era London, but with a fantasy twist of course. Zachariah Wythe is England's first African Sorcerer Royal which, needless to say, not all of the English gentry are particularly happy about. Prunella is an assistant, of sorts, at a school where English ladies are taught to control and repress any unladylike magical tendencies, which is not Prunella's strong point.
The magic of the mundane world comes from Fairyland and filters through its boundaries to other realms. Britain, however seems to have a problem, the magic is running out and nobody knows why. Visiting Fairyland is fraught with danger, but the Sorcerer Royal needs to find out what is going on and get it resolved before anyone outside of the Society finds out.
Then there is the small matter of the Sultan of Janda Baik and his argument with the female witches of his own country that Zachariah and Prunella somehow find themselves embroiled in. Janda Baik in the real world is a small village in Malaysia, but in the novel it is an island nation with a strong history of female magic.
Prunella and Zachariah must resolve these issues and defeat a plot intended to remove Zachariah from office, by depriving him of his life.
It's my view that, some fantasy novels have the tendency to start as if the characters have never lived before the story and nothing significant happen in their life after, perhaps it's a result of the fairy tale structure; "once upon a time" and "happily ever after", or perhaps the classic quest and coming of age structures encourage the neat beginning and ends. Whatever the reason, it's not realistic, any adult has at least eighteen years of of history, family, friends, acquaintances, issues etc. Zachariah and Prunella in this tale feel as if the novel is just one part of their life, the characters didn't start living at page one, but some years before and they continue to live after the reader has closed the book. It makes me want to know more about their lives, what came before, what came after.
My ongoing criticism of some classic novels set in this time period, is the acceptance of societies' inequalities by primary characters leads to a tacit endorsement of those inequalities by the reader, this is not a concern for this novel. Prunella's disregard for society's petty restrictions and Zachariah's long suffering attempt to comply with the expectations of his office deftly show the authors criticism of such a restrictive and unequal society.
This deceptively whimsical tale takes you straight to the heart of the hypocrisy and prejudice regarding race and gender in the portrayed society, which at times cuts uncomfortably close to the knuckle, even when reflecting on the modern day. It's a captivating tale of social obligations thinly veiling rivalries and deception of the highest order. A totally worthwhile read.
Here is an Amazon affiliate link to purchase Sorcerer to the Crown, the sequel The True Queen will be published in the U.K. on the 21st March 2019.
If if you have read this novel, drop me a note below to let me know what you thought.