Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

England’s
magic is failing.  Every
thaumaturge in London knows whom to blame, but no one has an answer for
England’s magical woes.  Set during
the time of Napolean and England’s rapid colonial expansion, Sorcerer to the Crown takes on
imperialism, nationalism, and the fantasy genre itself with a humorous and warm
first installment in Cho’s new Sorcerer Royal series.

Prunella
Gentleman is a young woman raised at a school for gentlewitches, where young
ladies are taught not to use their magical abilities.  Zacharias Wythe is the newest Sorcerer Royal, a young man
still, and fighting to overcome the obstacle of his irregular ascension to the
title.  Both have secrets to keep;
some secrets, even Prunella and Zacharias themselves don’t fully realize.  They are, after all, magicians.  Zacharias is trying to find the source
of England’s lack of magic, defending himself from other thaumaturges who
believe he is the cause; orphan Prunella is trying to make her way in the world
while learning more about her past.

Part
romance, part fairy story, part novel of intrigue, Sorcerer to the Crown is a galloping ride across England’s storied
countryside, deflating plot devices and tropes just as fast as Prunella can
slap down a hex thrown by an angry mer-creature.  Cho breathes energetic and vivid life into all her
characters, while her narrator reminds one of the conversational early novel
tone of the eighteenth-century, handily dropping the reader into setting and
scene, leaving the reader free to enjoy Cho’s take on fantasy and fairy. 

Fairyland comes off both
better and worse than many a tale that treats fairy with proper dread and
awe.  Reminiscent of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, and echoing
the irreverence of Monty Python and the
Holy Grail
, Cho’s story delights in the vast imagination that created fairy
stories in the first place, while using Fairyland as a useful foil against
which to explore our own notions of foreignness and, indeed, Otherness.  Sorcerer
to the Crown
is a story about the other.  And while Cho lets readers float along happily without
enumerating every point of magical logic and lore, as some authors will do, she
does not let the reader off easy when it comes to considering the humanity of
her characters, not least because her characters will always demand it for
themselves.

Readers who enjoy fairy
stories that don’t take themselves too seriously will love the way Cho throws
everything together with a dash of irreverence and a whole lot of panache.  Prunella is the sorceress inside every
reader, a more confident Hermione, a more calculating Katniss, reminiscent of
another Cat—Cat Barahal of Kate Elliott’s Spiritwalker series—and never ready
to give up.  Cho is obviously
familiar with Austen and the Bronte’s, and readers who enjoy period language
and manners will feel right at home with Sorcerer
to the Crown.

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