Thumbs up for Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Fantasy.
This is a hard book to review. Sometimes a book that could have been great, but falls short, is more frustrating than a book that aspires to be merely good, and succeeds. The premise is thus: Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave adopted by an Englishman in an alternate Regency era, has become (against everyone’s preference) the Sorcerer Royale. It’s his job to find out why the amount of available magic is fading. At the same time, he must deal with racism; world politics; his growing awareness of the sexism of British magical education; the ambitions of a young lady named Prunella Gentleman; society’s belief that he probably killed his predecessor; the lingering ghost of said predecessor, who was also his dear adopted father…etc etc. All of the various subplots are very interesting. However, Zacharias himself really isn’t. Look, if I met the guy in person I’d respect the hell out of him. He has chosen to face the racism leveled at him by being consciously nonreactive and restrained. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for the hero of a novel. He has almost no agency in the story—he’s just sort of carried along by events. Prunella, on the other hand, steals every scene she’s in. Read it for Prunella, the plot, the fun Regency-with-magic setting, the bits of wit, the secondary characters, the thoughtful underpinnings. But I recommend it as a reliably good read, rather than a book that I loved.
No one could recall ever having seen Paget Damerell perform an enchantment, though he had somehow contrived to attain the much-coveted status of sorcerer. He pursued a life of the completest inutility, flirting with interesting women, eating handsome meals, paying scrupulous attention to his clothes and making it the sole business of his life to know every scarp of news floating about the thaumaturgical world. For this, as much as the silver sorcerer’s star pinned to his coat, he was respected and even feared at the Theurgist’s, and his appearance threw Cullip off his stride.
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