Sorcerer to the Crown, Hardback Book
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


Shortlisted for the 2016 Locus First Novel Award & the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Novel and Best NewcomerThe fate of English magic lies in their hands. . . In Regency London, Zacharias Wythe is England's first African Sorcerer Royal.

He leads the eminent Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, but a malicious faction seeks to remove him by fair means or foul.

Meanwhile, the Society is failing its vital duty - to keep stable the levels of magic within His Majesty's lands.

The Fairy Court is blocking its supply, straining England's dangerously declining magical stores. And now the government is demanding to use this scarce resource in its war with France.

Ambitious orphan Prunella Gentleman is desperate to escape the school where she's drudged all her life, and a visit by the beleaguered Sorcerer Royal seems the perfect opportunity.

For Prunella has just stumbled upon English magic's greatest discovery in centuries - and she intends to make the most of it.At his wits' end, the last thing Zachariah needs is a female magical prodigy!

But together, they might just change the nature of sorcery, in Britain and beyond.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Pan Macmillan
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Fantasy
  • ISBN: 9781447299455

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A frothy fantasy farce with serious ideas under its lacy skirts; comparing it to Jonathan Strange &amp; Mr. Norrell (as many people seem to) feels almost entirely inappropriate to me as I found that novel dour and slow. Sorcerer to the Crown may also be set in a Regency England with a well-established magical tradition, but it has a gleeful exuberance.If the tone is whimsical, the context is anything but: we meet former slave and newly-appointed Sorcerer Royal Zacharias Wythe in mourning for his adoptive father. Elevated to the highest thaumaturgical office on his father's death, he is undermined and threatened by the racial prejudice of his sorcerous colleagues and under pressure from the Government to help them out with a 'little problem' in the colonies. The snubs and backstabbing provide a major plot thread, but the novel lays out the politics and moves right on without getting bogged down.Zacharias travels to the country to escape a vicious rumour that he killed his father. He also needs to replenish England's diminishing magic with some clever spell-casting on the Fairy borders (another plot thread; needless to say nothing is simple), but he visits a school of 'gentlewitches' on the way as a favour to a good friend (the joke tied up with said friend took 250 pages to catch up with me <spoiler>- sometimes the intimidating aunt really <i>is</i> a dragon</spoiler>). Here we meet the outrageous Prunella Gentleman, orphan, magical prodigy and unstoppable force of nature. One of the things I delight in across all of Zen Cho's work are her ferocious female characters. Prunella is half-'foreign' (uncovering her parentage being a peripheral storyline), with no prospects and absolutely no idea of how much is too much. She throws herself into situations that anyone with half an ounce of common sense would shy away from and pooh-poohs most of the strictures of polite society. She's delightful, and she gets away with it all by combining wide-eyed naivete with a self-absorbed lack of regard for the opinions of others. Prunella was made to tiptoe through Gothic corridors getting into trouble (but she'd probably frighten the monsters), or - as here - to storm the sensibilities of British Magic. She's arguably a little too perfect - too bright, too pretty, too talented, too brave - but I was too charmed and giggling too much to care.She is a vivid contrast to poor, put-upon Zacharias, who is all woe and duty and has a dark secret besides. When he decides that women can and should be formally trained in magic (the school of gentlewitches actually teaches them to suppress their powers), and that Prunella will be his project, it's painfully clear that he's bitten off far more than he'd be able to chew even if he didn't have so much on his plate already. It's ironic that Prunella appears to be every bit as frivolous as England's thaumaturges fear 'females' will be (GAH. But, this is also a book laughing in the face of sexism, so) and in spite of this is a better magic user than any of them. In spite of this, she's over-shadowed by Malaysian witch Mak Genggang whenever the cantankerous old lady is on-page. She is a powerful, browbeating archetype who is determined to get what she needs from Zacharias and stymie the British government in their interference. If Prunella doesn't much care for conventions, Mak Genggang simply doesn't know they exist - she is a hurricane that storms through a scene, upsets everything in sight (and, inevitably, makes Zacharias' life even more complicated).Between the sorcerers manoeuvering to strip him of his staff, a fragile relationship with the Fairy Court, a magical situation even more complicated than it seemed, a mysterious illness he tries to hide from everyone, and a highly talented young lady more intent on finding a husband than mastering the principles of thaumaturgy (Prunella thinks magic is great; learning less so), Zacharias has more than enough on his hands. It's sometimes silly, over the top stuff, and I had to be in the right mood to enjoy it. Thankfully, the writing is polished and Cho masters the mannered Regency dialogue, which could have been a real stumbling block if done poorly. She also sustains multiple inter-related plots and adds nuance around racism, sexism and colonialism without the whole thing feeling over-burdened. I liked the occasional darker touches - Cho has always blended sour with sweet in her short stories, and she's not afraid for her protagonists to be ruthless (<spoiler>Nidget!</spoiler>), which stops this being too saccharine however cosy it all feels (<spoiler>at no point did I think I was in for an unhappy ending, although I wasn't sure how the challenges would be resolved</spoiler>). I think Zen Cho is one to watch, and I'll certainly watch out for the sequels.

Also by Zen Cho

Also in the Sorcerer Royal Trilogy series