Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown is a mildly amusing historical fantasy novel, full of nods to Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. While her book features some ambitious ideas, Cho rarely explores them in sufficient depth.

In Cho's world, the ever-dwindling supply of English magic is controlled by the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers. Much to the staid Royal Society's horror, their late leader has appointed a wholly unsuitable successor: his foster son, a former slave named Zacharias Wythe. In an attempt to solidify his position, Zacharias sets out to discover why England's magic is drying up. His quest brings him into contact with an even more unconventional magical practitioner: a ruthless, fearless young woman with a singular inheritance and seemingly unlimited powers.

Cho has received a lot of praise for focusing her story on minority characters. I applaud this choice in theory, but her depiction of the challenges faced by a black man and a half-Asian woman in Regency England is pretty far-fetched—no matter how much overt racism they face, Cho's protagonists are so good-looking, intelligent, resourceful, and fundamentally awesome that they still manage to become some of the most powerful people in England before their 25th birthdays. There are one or two moments of compelling interpersonal conflict (Zacharias's foster father's choice to separate him from his biological parents; the heroine's guardian's decision to demote her from student to servant), but Cho keeps most things simple: her bad guys are The Worst, while her good characters are so amazing they still manage to win at everything. The end result is reasonably entertaining, but it could have been something far more.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


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