Review: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

review         book

I'll Meet You Theretitle: Sorcerer to the Crown
author: Zen Cho
pages: 416
format: Hardcover
isbn/asin: 978-1447299455
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 5/5 (from hated to loved) or 9.3/10 (all books I've ever read)
recommended for: Fans of Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Diana Wynne Jones, V.E. Schwab, and any sort of spirited, fantastical magic.  People who appreciate whimsy.  It's adult but totally accessible for teens.
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…

in depth

  • Think Stardust meets Harry Potter meets The Chronicles of Chrestomanci.  And yes, those are three of my favorite books/series by the holy trinity of fantasy writers.  (Trinity membership to be discussed later).  

  • Ignore the American cover.  It would have you thinking this is some sort of woefully serious dragon book with opium dens and brocade.  Not that there's anything wrong with dragons, but this book just isn't about them.  

  • It is about a Regency world where magic is commonplace, and governed by various authorities.  In Britain, it's the Sorcerer Royal.  Who happens to be Zacharias.  Who happens to be a freed slave and adopted son of the previous Sorcerer Royal, who is now unexpectedly dead.  But also a ghost.  A hysterical, advice-giving ghost.  

  • In case you can't tell, this book is hysterical.  It's not unserious, but it certainly approaches life with a healthy dash of whimsy and more than a touch of snarky see-what-I'm-doing-here?-ness.  It plays with the conventions of Britishness and magicalness and churns out a fanciful, fast-paced, wickedly delightful plot.  

  • With so many layers!  There's always some disaster, from Zacharias' adoptive father inconveniently dying to magic inconveniently depleting to Prunella, a magical young maverick, stubbornly attaching herself to Zacharias.  

  • Not that she'd mind going off.  Prunella is as much a hero of this book as Zacharias.  She's frustrating sometimes, brash and stubborn and utterly unconcerned about the effect of her actions, but you've got to admire her pluck.  She's also the kind of brash and spirited that makes you unable to dislike her.  

  • And my dear Zacharias is the most awkward human being to ever human, totally stuffy and clueless and much too rulesy for someone that attractive (which he is, in my head).  SO MUCH vicarious awkwardness!  So much angst!  He just wants to make everyone happy, except himself, because he never wanted to be Sorcerer Royal in the first place.  Imagine him trudging around being grumpy to fairies and lamiae and schoolgirls and you'll have a good idea.  

  • Also there are talking caterpillars.  

  • The main plot is about Zacharias and Prunella trying to figure out what's wrong with magic, dealing with imperial uprising, dodging angry headmistresses, and sitting down to tea.  It's wild, thrilling, and full of lovely sputtering crackpot magic.  

  • It's also about discrimination.  Hatred.  This is a world where the other magicians blame Zacharias for the magic scuffle.  Because he's black.  Because they can.  A world where mixed-race Prunella is reminded daily how lucky she is to even be at the school of magic for girls, school of magic here meaning "A place where girls are taught to suppress all magical impulses because their ladyparts make them too fragile for such immense power."  In a way that's not sentimental or overbearing, Cho plumbs the depths of history for the other side of the imperial story, the everyday prejudices that grind people down.  This review called Magic, Murder, and Microaggressions says it best.  

  • The result is charming, heartwrenching, enlightening, thrilling, and surprising to the last page.  Cho's desert-dry sarcasm is a hysterical and fitting veneer for such a cheeky, self-aware adventure.  

  • See also: talking caterpillars.  

  • If you don't want to run out and pick this up immediately, then you have no sense of whimsy.  

in a sentence

Sorcerer Royal is all that is whimsy and light, a story of being different in a time where different is dangerous, and being magical in a time when being magical gets you into all sorts of unexpected mischief.  


will i read this author again?  Yes, a thousand times yes!  
will i continue the series?  I re-read the last few pages a few times because I knew I'd be deeply hungover.  I need book two like air.  

Note: I purchased this book. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected by stated opinions.


  1. Glad you loved this! I started reading it a few days ago and am only about 50 pages in. But I really like it already. I like that Regency time period stuff and the fantasy element is cool. I agree that the British cover is so much better.

    1. It's so hysterical! I hope you love it as much as I did. YES I hope they keep the theme for the sequel.

  2. I haven't heard of this before but it sounds right up my alley! I have just added it to my (ever-growing) TBR list and can't wait to check it out.