I have basically been on the library waiting list for Zen Cho’s Sorcerer To The Crown since it came out. I finally got to get it from the library on one of my recent Library Hauls and yesterday, in between writing sessions, I read the entire thing.
I wanted to tweet about it yesterday and give Zen Cho props from then, but I paused because I wanted to do it right and review it as best as possible (without many spoilers because I know there are people who read my reviews who haven’t read it yet).
So let’s get the most important thing out of the way: I love this book. (Like for real, if I could marry a book I’d be in a poly relationship with Sorcerer to the Crown and Matt Wallace’s Envy of Angels.)
How can a book be so perfect and so filled with everything that I want from this type of fantasy series? I knew I was going to like Sorcerer to the Crown but I didn’t expect it to just destroy me for other epic-ish fantasy series.
First off: the characters. Namely Zacharias, Prunella, and Mak Genggang.
Okay. Zacharias was already on his way to being my book-spouse for this book. He’s just the ideal: responsible, kind, intelligent, and oh yeah… super handsome. He’s like absolutely fictional spouse material!
I like that he’s been dropped into this position as the Sorcerer Royal and he’s barely keeping his head afloat, but that he’s striving to do right by the position and the people he cares about. Even when it means going through the worst prejudice and speculation possible, he pushes on.
Zacharias has this fantastic strength to him that makes you admire him and want to protect him at the same time. (No, seriously, like I kept wishing I could drop into Cho’s world just so I could beat the holy crap out of some of the people that Zacharias came into contact with.) But his strength and the pure core of courage in him is just amazing. He’s such a great guy. Gosh.
But then Prunella showed up and I was so not expecting to adore her with the intensity that I did. (I knew I’d love her from the second she appeared but I didn’t realize that I’d basically move the moon for her if she was real until I was done and it hit me.)
Talk about an actually perfect character. I don’t know if I want to be her or if I want to gently kiss her cheek and bake her cakes. Prunella is sharp edged with this focus on protecting herself and her people above all things. She’s loyal up until someone proves that they think less of her and are more interested in protecting themselves. At that point? She’s quick to cut them out. But she’s so freaking fierce about protecting the people she loves and it’s wonderful.
Mak Genggang is also great. Wow. I kind of want her to teach me everything she knows about magic and just generally, I’d follow her around like a puppy if I could. She first appears as this antagonistic character but then her role in the story changes and you find out so much more about her. She’s legitimately a wonderful character in the book and without her, things would go so poorly that it would be ridiculous.
All of the characters that aren’t antagonistic are awesome though!!
Next I’m kind of in love with Zen Cho’s worldbuilding and just the whole universe.
I wish I could build worlds like she can. Geez.
I’m currently super excited to see what comes next when it comes to the Fairy World and the familiars because I was not expecting what we got and I was pleasantly disturbed. I’m used to the fae folk and their kin being kind of disturbing but I think Zen Cho wins for “Most Uncomfortably Ending Familiar Bond”. Like it’s bad. And kind of gross. But I get it and I want to know more about the familiars and the history of sorcerer/familiar Bonds in this universe.
One thing I want to talk about is that there’s definitely racism in this book. Mak Genggang, Prunella, and Zacharias all have to deal with it. I know I’ve been a bit grouchy over period typical racism in my historical fiction, but I absolutely don’t have that issue with this book. Where most historical fiction I have beef with is focused on white characters and you get this racism thrown in as if it’s the only thing that matters about characters of color in historical settings, Zen Cho’s characters are nuanced and fleshed out and racism is a negative part of what they have to deal with – not the whole. Like it’s something that has an
What I love is that they do deal with it. Zacharias is an emancipated slave who was taken in by the previous Sorcerer Royal Stephen Wythe and his wife. He’s faced some of the most horrible racism by the time he was six years old and it literally never ends – like he’s literally seen as not worthy enough by fellow sorcerers and accused of crimes largely because they’re uncomfortable with his race and see him as lesser.
And of course, Prunella has to deal with both racism and misogyny from some of the same people that she’s coming into contact with. She’s biracial and at one point people are like talking about her skin tone and how you can hardly see how dark she is.
It’s heavy stuff to read. I frequently found myself having to put the book down and go look at something else because I was so very angry at some of the characters and their ignorant everything. I think that it really was necessary and that Zen Cho handled it extremely well. We were in her characters’ heads and empathizing with them, not necessarily given an outsider point of view to the racism they’re dealing with and that’s so important.
What’s also important is that we see different approaches to dealing with this racism.
Zacharias bites his tongue because he doesn’t want to raise any more trouble than he has. Prunella and Mak Genggang kind of tackle the racism and misogyny they experience head on because of their personalities. They couldn’t let the slight survive against them. But at the same time, Prunella might be a bit more patient and focused on the long con. She can hold on to her frustration instead of interrupting and kind of derailing a plan or making the racists talking nearby aware that she can and does understand them.
I love that.
Sure, it’s incredibly difficult to read. I’m still freaking pissed about what some of the characters have had to go through. I actually have a list of fictional characters that I’d fight if I could and for Sorcerer to the Crown I just wrote “90% of the white people in this book” because I couldn’t be bothered to remember their names.
The plot is also (and kind of obviously) amazing.
I really don’t want to go into any more spoilers than I already have but seriously – While I expected some of what went down in the story especially once they got back to the city, I also really wasn’t. It’s not a super predictable plot at all and several of the paths taken left me gasping in absolutely sincere shock.
I also had to pick up and then throw my kindle a couple times because I was so moved by the book. (This is a thing I do and my kindle is absolutely fine despite it. At the same time: throwing a physical book has a different meaning especially when it’s a library book.)
I had to throw my kindle especially hard at the ending.
What a good ending.
Like I think Sorcerer to the Crown actually met (and EXCEEDED) all of my fantasy novel needs. There was action, history, nuanced relationships between characters of color, mythology that I recognized, and really intense scenes where I could decide whether or not I wanted to shake or punch someone.
Do yourself a favor and please read Sorcerer to the Crown. It’s so good. I’m still not over it.