A Book Devoured: Sorcerer to the Crown - Book 1 of The Sorcerer Royal Trilogy by Zen Cho

One of my life fantasies is to be successful career woman/author, but since I've never been able to get past a chapter into any of my story ideas (damn video games!) then I'll have to settle for now with reading and admiring the works of others who are literally living the dream.

A recent example of this is lawyer/author Zen Cho and her debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown. The first of a trilogy, Sorcerer to the Crown takes place in an alternate version of what sounds like Victorian England where magic is as commonplace as Earl Grey. Of course, only the elites can truly call themselves magicians and so it's not surprising that many are deeply offended and downright mutinous when the last Sorcerer Royal passes his staff onto his adopted freed slave son, Zacharias Wythe - especially when said passing occurs in mysterious circumstances. Couple that with the fact that England's magic reserves are in steep decline and poor Zacharias has his work cut out for him! His mission is clear: to restore England's prominence as a magical nation, whilst fending off assassinations by his peers and oh, did I mention that he is also planning a revolution within the Society of Unnatural Philosophers to actually allow women to study magic?

As the first novel in a series, Sorcerer to the Crown spends a lot of time setting up and introducing main characters and if read in that light, it is an entertaining and easy read. I really enjoyed the unique premise and setting of this novel, with its fantasy-meets-Jane Austen schtick; in fact, I think it would lend itself to a really fun steam punk anime as there are mentions of shape-shifting fairies, wizard battles and Pokemon-style familiars!

Unfortunately, I do wish the characters were a little less one-dimensional, particularly given the characters' circumstances. As a black man at the head of an elite society, Zacharias is subject to slander, snide comments and constant doubt of his capability, yet he rises above it all with class and patience - on the flip side, as a reader that kinda makes you infuriated as he just never lets loose or is open to anyone about his personal thoughts. Th other main protagonist, Prunella Gentleman is your typical spunky orphan, but she too also has a very interesting backstory as a biracial woman who is determined to make something of herself. Perhaps because of this interesting material, I thought Cho would provide more of a nuanced take on how these two characters deal with these very relevant modern experiences, but besides the general aura of "ugh, racism and sexism is so bad!" I felt the depth of these characters a little lacking, at least in this first part of the trilogy.

Where Cho does fare better, is at immersing the reader into the world she has created. I love it when books just throw you into a universe and leave it up to you to discover how bits and pieces of it work and there's plenty of rich mysteries to unfold in this one. I can't wait for the next installment to come out so I can learn more about the Fairy Court and what Prunella and Zacharias have to fight next!

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