Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho | #DSFFBookClub

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.

SttcIt 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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Sorcerer to the Crown (Sorcerer Royal, #1)

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18 thoughts on “Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho | #DSFFBookClub

  1. I am sad to say that I kind of failed in my read for this month, but I do still want to get to this book. I love how this intertwines fantasy with racial issues and uses it to make a stand. It’s certainly not something that I see very often in books and I’m absolutely interested to see how it’s all put together. Great review!

    1. What book were you planning to read this month?

      Zen Cho does it very well and it’s appropriate given the setting and time. But modern fantasy stories don’t necessarily have to focus on racial issues. I certainly don’t mind either way. Love both!

      By the way, I don’t think I know your name. May I ask what I can call you, if you don’t mind? You can call me Naz. 🙂

      1. I almost never have a reading plan per say, I just sort of grab at whatever I feel like during the time. But I was going to read this one, and I think I still have time before the chat?

        It’s Liselle 🙂 nice to sort of formally meet you, Naz haha

  2. I liked STTC so much that I’m letting my partner use my Kindle to read it right now. Alas, the problem is now that I’m Kindle-less and I’ve already read all the physical books on my table!

    1. That’s very generous of you! But I appreciate you spreading the love for this book. I want as many people to read it as possible!
      And hold up, you’ve read all the books in your immediate (physical) TBR? How’d this happen? Where are you other books? Haha 😀

  3. I got such a kick out of this book. Like you say, it’s not a perfect book, but there’s so much it does wonderfully that I didn’t even care. My favorite thing was that final scene where all the women characters Sort Everything Out while basically the men all watch with their mouths open. I feel like I so rarely get to see something like that, where men are around but women are the ones in charge, and it was just immensely satisfying.

  4. One book review that took me about a week to write (and rewrite and rewrite, etc.) was for Only Ever Yours, a futuristic sci-fi book. It wasn’t heavy on the science part, but because everything was just a touch different (and thus had a different name) from our reality, I felt I had to explain that. It was hard really cutting the review down to anything even remotely readable. You did a great job! You haven’t spoiled the whole book, but I get the idea.

    1. I appreciate when bloggers explain enough plot and background for me to understand their SFF book reviews. When they don’t I am so confused and don’t enjoy reading the reviews.
      Thanks, Melanie. I wonder if my reviews make sense a lot of the time! I think sometimes they turn out all right.

      1. For instance, you mentioned there were many well-developed minor characters, but you didn’t name them all or go into their plots. That’s another place where I struggled with the SFF review. OH! OH! I just thought of something!!! For your diverse SFF club (or just for you): Mercedes Lackey’s fantasy trilogy, which includes Magic’s Pawn, Magic’s Price, and Magic’s Promise. The main character is a gay teen who grows into one of the most powerful Herald-Mages ever. I read it when I was in high school. A gripping read! Lackey tends to include gay and lesbian characters as the stars of her trilogies (she has so, so many books, but they typically come in threes).

        1. I try to write what I think my readers would want to read or could possibly stand. People who haven’t read the book don’t care about the minor characters!

          Oh, I own Magic’s Pawn! I have yet to read it but would definitely love to 🙂

  5. Great review. Your enthusiasm spills through the review. After Aentee also said how much she liked the book, I have been very very curious about this one. I did enjoy your discussions on the cover appeals of different versions of the book. Adding it to TBR

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