The Diverse SFF Book Club was the best thing that could have happened since I created my blog. I have always read SFF (Science Fiction Fantasy) voraciously because I grew up with the genre and it has provided me with countless positive reading experiences. But when I started blogging, I was hesitant to review too many of these books because I know they’re not the most popular around the blogosphere.
SFF is difficult to review because the worlds are often complex and reviews/discussion won’t make much sense to anyone who hasn’t read the story. Most of these stories are also written by white authors, which means I usually can’t review them on my blog. However, I have managed to strike a middle-ground when I read and reviewed The Grace of Kings and The Fifth Season! Both were excellent!
With this book club, I now have a wonderful reason to read my favorite genre and share the experience with you. To all those who joined me this month, thank you so much! I have thoroughly enjoyed our discussions and hope to hold more with different books in the coming months. So please stick around and keep reading with me. And don’t forget to visit our Goodreads group for the book club to share your thoughts and reactions after you’ve finished reading.
Review / Thoughts
Sorcerer to the Crown was an excellent choice for the first book of the Diverse SFF Book Club. The story contains all my favorite things about Fantasy — fantastical creatures, interesting magic system, political intrigue, and complex characters. Reading this book was absolutely delightful, thrilling, and often quite funny! I highly recommend it to all fantasy lovers.
It all takes place in Regency-era England, which is always a compelling setting despite how often England is the center of magical stories. To be perfectly honest, I’ve had my fill of stories set in magical England, but I adored Sorcerer to the Crown for several reasons. The chief ones being the leading protagonists, Zacharias Wythe and Prunella Gentleman. The former is a young Black man who becomes the most powerful magician in all of England — the Sorcerer Royal. The latter is a biracial Indian woman who steals the show with her charm, wit, and innate magical prowess.
POC leads in fantasy are enough to spark my interest in reading a story. But when the writer is also a woman of color, I practically start hyperventilating. Zen Cho consciously chose to tell this magical tale with Zacharias and Prunella at its heart and the story is therefore very different than it would be with white protagonists.
As a Black man, Zacharias must face the contempt and condescension of English society in general, but of other magicians (known in the story as thaumaturges) in particular. As the leader of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, his position is relentlessly questioned not because he is unworthy of the role, but because he is not white. To clarify, Zacharias became the most powerful magician in England after his adoptive father, Stephen Wythe, passed away. Zacharias was released from slavery as a child and trained in the ways of magic due to his natural affinity for it. Other magicians in English society have not forgotten this, which is why they hold so much resentment for Zacharias. Magic is generally reserved for rich and powerful white men — it is literally a symbol for power and those in power will do anything they can to take it back. Zacharias must face the brunt of microaggressions and outright hostility that leads to assassination attempts.
Let me demonstrate just how bold and racist some of these magicians are toward Zacharias.
Is it any surprise, however, that English thaumaturgy should find itself in such a state of degradation, when it willingly bends its knee to a woolly Afric? One who, so far from overcoming his native savagery, has repaid his benefactor in the coin of villainy, and been rewarded with the staff of the Sorcerer Royal?
This aspect of the novel is honest and realistic because of course some old (and young), rich English men were racist. Even though slavery was abolished in England in 1772, that didn’t mean white people, even those who were abolitionists, thought black people were equals. Sorcerer to the Crown does an excellent job exploring issues of race and the intersectionality of oppression. For Prunella must not only deal with the difficulty of being a woman of color in England, but also of being a woman. Women cannot practice thaumaturgy or any kind of serious magic because men think their bodies are too fragile and their minds too weak. Unbelievable. Men with power are the worst. Of course this is all nonsense that men have been perpetuating likely for centuries to stay in power.
Prunella is the last person these racist misogynists wanted to see. She defies all their expectations and shatters all their misguided notions about women’s use of magic. Initially, however, she needs Zacharias’s help as a man in power because even though he is a Black man, he is still a man and the Society of magic users will at least respect him for that. Zacharias understands the injustice of women being prohibited from formally using magic, and thus serves as a natural ally to Prunella. His unique position as a marginalized person in the community allows him to say this:
I am not sure I can credit these tales to the peculiar dangers of magic for women. After all, did not the Society say much the same of me? That my body could not support, nor my mind comprehend, the subtleties of the craft? You championed my abilities in the teeth of my opposition. Can you truly say, sir, that I should not seek to do for women what you did for me?
Sorcerer to the Crown isn’t a perfect book, but it does so much right that I must recommend it to every fantasy lover I know. It has everything we love about fantastical stories, with added social commentary that is relevant and ever more fascinating in a magical setting. I have only focused on the protagonists, but there many other complex characters who litter the story, many of the most prominent ones being people of color.
Moreover, the language and voice in which it is written is simply delightful. Reading this novel made me feel more sophisticated than I actually am! If you enjoy reading language in the vein of Jane Austen, then you will be utterly charmed by Zen Cho’s writing. So please add it to your TBR as soon as possible.
I fear my review is growing overly long, as usual. There is so much to like about Sorcerer to the Crown that I could discuss its subtleties for far longer. However, if you have not read the book it won’t make any sense and I also don’t want to spoil anything.
If you have read the book, please join me in an in-depth discussion about anything you could possibly want in the Goodreads group for the Diverse SFF Book Club. And be sure to share your review using the #DSFFBookClub hashtag on Twitter.
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