A few weekends a go, when I was in Cardiff, I did what I always do when not in London, I found a bookshop and bought some books. This was one of them, which had also been languishing on my Goodreads to read list for awhile. However, I had recently read (and was absolutely tickled pink by) The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, also by Zen Cho, so decided to make it my holiday purchase.
The plot of Sorcerer to the Crown is mainly straightforward. It’s early 19th century (or so I guess because of the references to Bonaparte) and there is a noticeable decline in English Magic. Zacharias Wythe, the Sorcerer to the Crown needs to discover what that’s all about.
However, what makes it not straight forward, is that Zacharias is a former slave, adopted as a child by the previous Sorcerer to the Crown, Stephen Wythe. However, Stephen has recently expired, leaving Zacharias in charge of solving the problem…and all the associated antagonisms that come with being a black man holding high office. Alongside that, he makes the acquaintance of Prunella Gentlemen, a women who has significant magical capability in a world where that’s frowned upon in women (delicate constitution, you know). She also has a mysterious past, with a mother of foreign origin.
What makes the book such a great read, is the intersection of all the problems of being who you are alongside magical peril and assassination attempts. Prunella is unabashedly herself, loves that she has magical power but is deeply pragmatic. She complicates Zacharias’ life to no end, as she wants to establish herself (through marriage of course), with learning to control her magic as a secondary consideration. Zacharias has to deal with the machinations of other magicians, who want to undermine him and remove him from office – because of the colour of his skin. It could be a boring old book about magical feuds, but instead it is a wonderful story of navigating magic and prejudices alike.
The characters are so wonderful and multi-dimensional, even the supporting ones like Zacharias’ friends and the witch Mak Genggang. It is a really funny and delightful read, even though it manages to tackle some big themes, in between the magical shenanigans. ALSO PRUNELLA AND ZACHARIAS ARE ADORKABLE.
I think I’ll go pick up the sequel then.