Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

sorcererThere is nothing quite like finishing off a week-long vacation with a child puking in your hotel bed. After a week in Baltimore and Washington D.C., we were all down to a single clean shirt for the drive home when our middle child got sick. I was close to tears while I dragged a laundry bag full of smelly blankets and clothes to the hotel laundry (when all I really wanted to do was watch a movie in bed without worrying about waking up any children sleeping a few inches away). On my way out the door, I grabbed my phone and the only book I’d brought on the trip, Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho.

I dumped my laundry in the washing machine, sat on the linoleum floor of the laundry room, and quickly discovered that I read every interesting thing on the entire internet earlier in the day. With that, I opened the book for the very first time, desperate for it to be entertaining enough to get my mind off what felt like a really rotten evening. At the end of the second chapter I actually gasped at an unexpected twist. I sent a quick text to Josh: “I have a good book with me. Be back when the laundry is dry.” And just like that my woeful trip to the laundry room transformed into an hour of uninterrupted reading. I know the book is good when I’m excited about the blankets needing an extra cycle to dry.

Now that I’ve devoted an entire post to how Sorcerer to the Crown saved a disastrous night, maybe I should talk about the book itself. The story begins with young Zacharias Wythe standing in front of England’s Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers to have his magical ability tested. The magicians doubt his natural ability because magic is considered a gentleman’s trade, and Zacharias is a freed slave. In his nervousness, he forgets the spell he has been asked to perform. Having read more fantasy novels than I could shake a stick at, I imagined he would probably pass the test and astonish them all. (Spoiler alert: He does.) The rest of the book follows Zacharias a decade later in his role of newly-appointed Sorcerer Royal as he navigates the politics of his position, dodges magical assassination attempts, and tries to figure out what is causing a disruption in the flow of magic to England. This is a land of familiars, society events, and island magicians resisting the control of the British Empire. Between the fact that Zaccharais was the last person to see the previous Sorcerer Royal alive and the appearance in London of a female of incredible magical power (something that has some precedent but isn’t encouraged in polite society), the politics of his position get even more complicated.

I have heard this book compared to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, but that does a disservice to both books, although the settings are similar. It reminded me more of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making, but without the precocious children or flowery prose. Sorcerer to the Crown is fast-paced and charming, but many of the characters are a little too anachronistic to belong in a strict Regency story. I’m not too particular about that sort of thing, so I was happy to enjoy the juxtaposition of magic and polite society. “‘Oh, Mrs. Daubeney!’ said the young lady. ‘Pray summon one of the misstresses! If someone could deflect Miss Midsomer’s hexes, I would be able to deal with Henrietta in a manner less injurious to her dignity. There, Henny, I know it is provoking, but I cannot very well release you, for you know that you will try to strike Miss Midsomer dumb, and that would not be at all gentlemanly!'”

Halfway through the book, when the crisis of the laundry had passed, I started to worry that the plot wouldn’t be able to stand up to the fascinating premise and diverse characters. I was pleased to find that the whole thing wrapped up nicely. As an added bonus, I had no idea what the answer to the big, important mysteries would be.

I would recommend this to: readers with any interest in magic or dragons or anyone stuck doing laundry for the night.

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