I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Published by ACE CHARTER on September 1st 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Romance
In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite... The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession… At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…
Being an unabashed Anglophile and proud Potterhead, I thought this book would be right up my (Diagon) alley. The author took quite an interesting approach to magical England, a kind of 18th century Harry Potter meets Parliament. Not surprisingly, I found certain parts of Sorcerer to the Crown quite enjoyable, but it had some pitfalls that kept me from falling in love with it.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this book was the way it was written–it was delightfully British. I think this particular sentence exemplifies it perfectly:
“Despite these brave prophylactics against disappointment, Prunella was inclined to be crestfallen when she drew out of the valise a sheaf of old papers–newspapers and torn receipts, of no account.”
(Translation in American: “She was sad because there was nothing in the bag.“)
The vocabulary was also quite dazzling, but became tedious the further along I read (seriously, my Kindle dictionary was no match for some of these words). Initially, it felt as if the author was just trying to show off her mad thesaurus skillz, but upon further reflection, I appreciated her use of archaic terms that truly enhanced the historical feel of the book.
I also enjoyed how the author created a world parallel to 18th century England, with all its white, patriarchal privilege, and then chose to create main characters who defy those cultural norms. Zacharias, the freed slave, held the highest magical position in the land. He faced overt discrimination from the magical society despite his true claim as Sorcerer Royal (as well as being a gifted thaumaturge), with his adversaries looking for any way to unseat him. There was also a restriction on women using magic, which made the feminist in me bristle. Although I generally disliked Prunella’s character, I enjoyed her complete dismissal of these rules, rising to heights previously unattainable to low born, mixed race women.
So, yea, this book totally matches what I usually enjoying reading. But there were a couple of things about it I couldn’t overlook. First of all, it was slooooow at times. I almost gave up on this book around the 1/3 mark. But what I truly struggled with was supporting the story’s heroin. Despite my earlier remarks about her, Prunella was reckless and rash, and something about her character rubbed me the wrong way. I also felt that she took advantage of Zacharias, whose temperament reminded of Jane Bennett and who was completely naive when it came to women.
The verdict: good, but not great. It looks like this might become a series, and I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll read the next book.