Black in Regency England

Sorcerer to the Crown - Zen Cho

I was so-o-o disappointed. Most of my ‘bookish’ friends loved this novel, but I didn’t. Maybe I expected too much.

The book starts well and promises great things to come. It introduces two interesting protagonists, both non-white, in the vaguely Regency England. With magic.

Zacharias is a young black Sorcerer Royal, the leader of the British sorcerers’ society. Quiet and bookish, he lacks ambition. The only thing he ever wanted to do with magic was research. He never wanted a leadership position, it was foisted on him, and the other sorcerers, all white gentlemen, don’t want him in the position either. They can’t accept a former black slave as their leader. There is resentment and backstabbing and multiple magical assassination attempts.

Prunella is a half-blood nineteen-year-old girl, a penniless orphan, working at a school for young noblewomen. She is tremendously gifted in magic, but women are not supposed to work magic in Britain. Their weak brains can’t support the pressure of magic, or so the male magicians claim.

The story unfolds as a charming romp at a cross-road of many serious interlocking themes: racism, and the inequality of women, the price of magic and political intrigues, plus a whiff of romance.

Then the charm wears off, the promises fizzle out, and the story rapidly deteriorates into a wacky farce. The humor becomes crude. The characters, 3-dimentional in the beginning, swiftly lose their extra dimension and come out flat and absurd. Their dialog turns stilted. Their stupidity level spikes. And all the themes that enhanced the beginning of the story get their resolutions in a cheap twist of magical gimcrack.

The writing also suffered. Many reviewers compared this novel with Georgette Heyer’s romances. But whereas Heyer’s language is sparklingly beautiful and deliciously rich, if a little old-fashioned, the language of this novel is formal and convoluted, its 'old-fashion' flavor artificial. Some sentences I had to read several times to arrive at their meaning.

No, I didn’t like this book at all.