Sorcerer to the Crown: fantasy set in 1800’s England with Leads of Color

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho imagines a similar type of magical Britain as Harry Potter, with the competing factions, magician guild meetings where nobody believes the hero, and political intrigue, except this book focuses on adults of color in the 1800’s rather than modern white teenagers.

The hero is a young, serious Black man who never expected the magical responsibilities he inherited from the white man who freed him and raised him as a son. The heroine, in contrast, is a devil-may-care biracial woman (Indian and English) who seems to be afraid of nothing and makes outrageous, impulsive decisions. They make great foils for each other–picture him standing there seriously holding the Staff that confers his power, and her dancing around making rabbit ears behind his head and a silly face.

The main obstacle they tackle together is that, predictably, this being 1800’s England, there seems to be a racist plot to unseat him from the office he inherited and even murder him. He, meanwhile, is trying to find out why England’s magic seems depleted as of late, because no matter what his enemies say, it’s not his fault.

There are some totally ingenious ideas in this book that really impressed me–for example, this society’s Magic Schools for Girls are actually teaching the women to suppresstheir magic rather than honing their skills–even to their grave harm. What an amazing metaphor for the constrictions of a sexist society. I also cracked up when one of the assassination attempts was an asp disguised as a sausage. This needs to be a movie, except that scene would be too funny to be scary!

I also loved a lot of the side characters and no one who knows me well will be surprised to find out I have the tiniest little crush on the Chinese wizard who shows up to teach the heroine how to ride on clouds. There are terrific female characters in this book from many demographics, not just youth like the heroine–more than one key figure in the book is an older woman, including several who do magic, and this book features witch battles.

The only down side is that my anxiety caused all the parts where people believe bad things about the hero, and conspire against him, to gnaw at me, but I pushed through it because I trusted the author to fix everything and provide a satisfying ending.

Much appreciation for a fantasy world where the worldbuilding was easy to follow, as that is always a personal concern of mine.

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About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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30 Responses to Sorcerer to the Crown: fantasy set in 1800’s England with Leads of Color

  1. Scott says:

    I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to look at a sausage and not feel a little suspicion.

    Recommendation:

    Grace of Kings by Ken Liu is a big sprawling fantasy epic set in what feels like an alternate history china; there’s empire toppling, political machinations, divine manipulations, and beautiful prose but the thing I love the most are the characters and the intimacy of their triumphs and defeats.

    Kinda cheated with the semi-colon but wanted to get it all in there.

    • Shira says:

      Thanks! And dang, I put ‘one sentence’ in there so people wouldn’t feel pressured and intimidated thinking I expected a full length review, not to limit people 😛 I’ll go edit the original rules post to make that more clear! Thanks for the rec.

  2. torifrost says:

    (I’m not entering the giveaway, I just wanted to share!)

    If you like fantasy with a dystopian twist, I recommend N.K. Jemisin’s “The Fifth Season.” It reads as if someone had written Between the World and Me as an apocalyptic revenge saga, and Jemisin’s world-building is so strong that you won’t notice it’s happening until you get to the end and realize you now have enough basic geology knowledge to get college credit. The sequel is out in August and it’s a paperback original!

    • Shira says:

      I’m glad you commented even if you’re not entering because I hope people will use these comments as a resource for their own reading! Dystopians really aren’t my thing, but I have some friends who I know will want to hear about this, so thank you.

      • Blaurgh I wanted to do The Fifth Season because I just finished it and it was awesome and new and amazing. I can’t stop recommending it to everyone. Can I second this and enter the giveaway? 😄

  3. Asher says:

    This book sounds great!

    My recommendation:

    Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
    It’s an afrofuturism story set in Lagos, Nigeria about aliens coming to earth, their reactions to us, our reactions to them, and it’s full of magic and great character exploration. I’m not the best at summaries but I genuinely love this book and think you might too.

    • Shira says:

      Oh, cool! I liked her Zahrah and mostly enjoyed Akata Witch but haven’t had a chance to look into the rest of her catalog yet because of the scary length of my TBR. Definitely interested.

    • Kari says:

      Also by Nnedi Okorafor: Who Fears Death
      Post-apocalyptic in a uniquely African way…and with sorcerers! It was unlike anything I had read before, and I loved it. (After posting my first rec. (The Fifth Season), I noticed someone had beat me to it in the comments.)

  4. Ryan says:

    Recommendation: Saladin Ahmed’s The Throne of the Crescent Moon, which is about a few really compelling protagonists, including a Bedouin girl who can shapeshift into a lion, hunting ghuls and solving a magical plot in a rich and deep middle-eastern setting.

  5. You had me at biracial Indian girl dancing around behind the hero and making bunny ears on him. Hm, as for a book rec…..I haven’t been that lucky in finding interesting fantasy focusing on queer folks or poc…for instance, I read two of Melinda Lo’s books in quick succession and was bored utterly to tears. But that might be because they were YA fiction? Anyway, the one book that comes to mind is Salman Rushdie’s Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights. I listened to this book on the way to and from work for about two weeks. It leans a little towards the straight and male demographic but all the main characters are either PoC, or descended from one. Personally I thought the story itself left something to be desired, but it was an interesting read nevertheless. The author makes thinly veiled allusions to current or recent events and people, and there are some truly funny moments in the book. The one thing I love more than anything else about this book, tho, is that it supposes that our entire world is entirely based on Islamic/Arab/South Asian mythology, rather than the Christian undertones that sour so much of fiction for me. The cast of characters are so diverse and interesting, and their predicaments so laughably absurd, that you’re bound to find someone to relate to. The climactic final battle is…a little anticlimactic, but the resolution to the novel is satisfying.
    A final note, I do believe listening to a book and reading them are two different experiences, so it’s possible that my enjoyment was a bit detracted from since I listened to it on audio book, and that reading it will prove far more fulfilling. Anyway, happy reading!

    Oh, I almost forgot, my tumblr is delilahmidnight 🙂

  6. Lindsay says:

    This book sounds amazing, and if I don’t win the giveaway I’ll definitely be on the lookout for it in the library!
    Melinda Lo is definitely very well known, but I really want to recommend her book Huntress! I haven’t read Ash yet, even though it’s technically supposed to be read first, but Huntress worked really well as a stand-alone too. It has a beautiful balance of plot and character development, and Kaide and Taisin were so exciting to read about. I also like Lo’s approach to homophobia in a fantasy world in that while it’s mentioned as less likely that Kaide would be able to marry a woman than a man, it’s overall not shown in the way that many fantasy writers portray, where different worlds have to have the same bigotry as ours. This, on top of the amazing worldbuilding that Lo has done that draws from Chinese culture and mythology rather than the overused European, really sets apart the world of Huntress (and, once I finish reading it, I’m sure I’ll be able to say the same about Ash!) from a lot of the other fantasy out there. And really, who doesn’t love representation of LGBT+ people of color?
    (this was quite long sorry but hopefully it’s okay! and my email is lindsay9 @ bu dot edu)

  7. I will never be able to think of sausage or asps the same way again. And the part of about the magic school for girls was absolute genius and I’m trash for not thinking of it first.

    My recommendation is for the A Bride’s Story graphic novel series by Kaoru Mori. It’s set in 19th century Turkic Central Asia (around the Caspian Sea) and follows the story of several young women while simultaneously exploring the varying regional differences in culture as well as the intimate relationships between women and family dynamics. The art is to die for!!!

    The series is planned to have eight volumes but currently only seven have been translated into English.

    My email is montevarrick [at] mail [dot] com

  8. Blythe says:

    I just read Sorcerer to the Crown and loved it so so much! Prunella is the delightfully amoral female protagonist I’ve waited my whole life for.
    I know someone else already recommended an N.K. Jemisin book, so I hope it doesn’t seem like cheating if I recommend something of hers too. I’ve recently been re-reading her Inheritance trilogy. The first book is The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and it’s that one that reminds me the most of Sorcerer to the Crown–it’s about a young woman of color (at least she seemed to be coded that way?) who gets shoved into the life of the royal family and is suddenly surrounded by plots. Also there are gods running around screwing everything up. The main character of the second book is a disabled black woman who I really love because I’m disabled too, although in a very different way. I unfortunately haven’t gotten the third book from the library, and I don’t remember it too well, so I can’t tell you much about it.
    That being said, if all the plotting in Sorcerer to the Crown made you anxious, there’s quite a bit in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that might do that too.
    (My Tumblr is “eeddis”.)

  9. loonybrain says:

    Oh, Zen Cho! I read their Rising Lion–The Lion Bows and really enjoyed it. I didn’t know they had published something bigger, and I’d love to read more!

    Okay, rec for something NOT by Zen Cho, for the giveaway. If comics are allowed (I’m way better with comics than straight prose these days), then I’m going with Incognegro, by Mat Johnson (writer) and Warren Pleece (artist). Taking place during the Harlem Renaissance, it’s about a reporter who uses his ability to pass as white to infiltrate the KKK. Naturally, it’s extremely dangerous, and he’s all set to retire when he gets the case he can’t turn down–a lynch mob is after his brother in the South. So off he goes, in hopes of saving his brother and getting away before the KKK catches up to him.

    As you can imagine, this story is a hell of a ride. Johnson’s plotting and pacing always deliver, and while this story is definitely harrowing at times, it never feels despairing.

    Contact is GreenoughMST via gmail.

  10. dreampunk.tumblr says:

    oh my god, i HAVE to read this book (you had me at devil-may-care biracial woman.)

    now, I guess it’s my turn. My rec: The Immortals of Meluha. I want to describe it as Indian Percy Jackson (down to the ubiquitous popularity in my home country) but that’s a disservice to the series in general. Think more… set in “Atlantis”, with Wicked + The Divine concepts, and a good touch of Percy Jackson style urban mythology. Except South Asian.

    (aishani dot banerjee01 at gmail dot com)

  11. Rusty Lloyd says:

    Thank you for the recommendation; I will pick it up!

    Stephen Barnes is quite good, I’d look at his InshAllah series (Lion’s Blood/Zulu Heart); he’s written quite a bit of other things as well.

    I would say that for one of the most amazing writers of Fantasy/SF ever, Octavia Butler is a strong, strong read. She’s not essentially ‘Fantasy’, per say, but man is she good.

  12. Wendy Qualls says:

    This book sounds fantastic 🙂 And do children’s books count? The Princess Charming series (https://www.amazon.com/Whats-Princess-Good-Charming-Picture/dp/0993909701/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468609250&sr=1-5) was originally a kickstarter but has taken off from there, and has a fantastic variety of diverse heroines. (Genderqueer author + genderqueer princess = kick-ass story!)

  13. Lishi says:

    Older women having witch battles? Sounds like I need this book!

    My recommendation: Faerie Blood by Angela Korra’ti

    A biracial computer geek in Seattle discovers she’s part fae and has to deal with the Seelie side of her family showing up and causing trouble along with discovering all the magical elements to her city. Various awesome side characters are also present, including her housemates who are an interracial, gay couple, and a kick ass old lady who guards the city with magic and a shotgun.

  14. elfinsbl21 says:

    This looks so cool!

  15. elfinsbl21 says:

    May i recommend The Icarus Girl, it’s based in Nigerian mythology and the main character is biracial. It’s by Helen Oyeyemi.

  16. Raquel says:

    I would like to enter the giveaway.I don’t read a lot of fantasy buy there is this series I read in 7th grade and still have not finished.The author is asian and the series is Blue bloods by Melissa de la cruz.It has vampires ,that can go out in the sunlight and they basically have reincarnation.They have a human shell and their soul takes these shells every cycle.The series world us kind of complicated ,and I still haven’t finished but I enjoyed what I read.There’s also spoiled rich kids,traveling,and the world is pretty interesting.

  17. qalmlea says:

    I’ll recommend Daniel José Older’s book, Shadowshaper. It’s a YA urban fantasy. Sierra discovers she’s a Shadowshaper, meaning that she can bring her artwork to life, and that there is someone out there targeting the local Shadowshapers. It’s a lot of fun, with a very diverse cast.

  18. Nicola says:

    I can’t enter the competition as I’m not in North America – but I’d like to reccommend Sunbolt (The Sunbolt Chronicles) by Intisar Khanani. Orphaned at a young age, and she has magic she can’t reveal, she uses everything she has at her disposal to aid the Shadow League against the corrupt and powerful Blackflame (the man behind the throne, ruining her country).

    She is smart, wily and very interesting.

  19. Janet says:

    A bit older but a goodie is Hiromo Goto’s The Water of Possibility. (I hope you like children’s literature! It’s what I know best.) Twelve year old Sayuri, who resents moving to small town Alberta, and her younger brother Keiji semi-accidentally enter another realm populated with beings – friendly, mischievous, and downright hostile – from Japanese mythology. Sayuri promptly loses Keiji and the way home; the world they have entered is falling under the sway of a very ominous, very violent power.

    My tumblr is dandelionsunlight

    And just for fun, because these are great books, even if they aren’t entirely fantasy:
    Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson. Technically magical realism, this is the sequel to If You Come Softly. Micah, a black teen who was killed by white cops at the end of IFCS, is having just as much trouble moving on as his girlfriend, his mother, and his friends are.

    Audrey (cow) by Dan Bar-el. Audrey, a young Charolais, is destined for the Abbot’s War (abbatoir), but she has no intention of submitting to her fate. I don’t know if this counts as fantasy? But the set-up is that the author interviewed all the animals and people involved, so even if the animals don’t speak to the humans in the story, they speak with each other and with the narrator/interviewer. (This book is extremely funny; it will also make you cry.)

    Ms. Marvel graphic novel series (my favourite is Volume 2: Generation Why) by Sana Amanat, Stephen Wacker, G. Willow Wilson, and Adrian Alphona. Superhero story (which should count as fantasy, right?). Kamala Khan just wants to be a normal Pakistani-American teenager – well, that’s not quite true. What she wants to be is Carol Danvers, better known as Captain Marvel. And then she IS – sort of. Kamala sneaks out to a party (with drinking! after her curfew! where she is most definitely not supposed to be!) and ends up inhaling a mysterious mist that gives her superpowers. And while Kamala loves the saving people part, keeping her new identity a secret from her parents, her brother, and her two best friends involves a whole lot of, well, lying.

  20. Margo says:

    I’ve had Sorceror to the Crow. On my “gotta get this book” list for a while. Winning it would be great. Prunella sounds like some one I need to meet.
    I second all the NK Jemisin recommendations, and DJ Older’s Shadowshaper. I didn’t see T Frohock’s Los Nefilim mentioned so I’ll add that to the list. It’s an original take on Angels & Daimons (& Nephilim) in 1930’s Spain, but what’s really cool is the family dynamic, as Diago and Miquel find that Diago has a young son, Rafael. Two men (well, Nefilim) trying to be good parents to a young child amidst world altering events, well …check it out.
    @mangoheroics

  21. Margo says:

    I wrote this whole long thing last night but it seems to have gotten lost. I’m really looking forward to meeting Prunella! And I agree with all the recommendations for NK Jemisin’s and DJ Older’s books. I don’t think anyone mentioned Jemisin’s Dreamblood Duology, which is amazing. I also recommend T Frohock’s Los Nefilim, which is a new twist on Angels & Daimons (& Nephilim) in 1930’s Spain. Within that context Diago & Miquel are trying to be good parents to Rafael, who is Diago’s newly discovered, very young son. Same sex parenting by Nefilim-of-color in dark fantasy. Done really well. Check it out! (@mangoheroics)

  22. Haley says:

    I recently read Roshani Chokshi’s “The Star Touched Queen” which is a magical book, with beautiful prose. I’d recommend it if you want a book with a determined female character, and are looking for fantasy that doesn’t just explore western mythology.

    I’m on twitter (@haley_comments)

  23. Carolyn says:

    I have Sorcerer to the Crown on my wishlist, but I haven’t gotten it yet, so thanks for the review.

    I saw in Asher’s comment that you mostly enjoyed Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. That’s what I was going to recommend as I just read it this weekend. (I’m curious what didn’t work for you. I tried looking for a review in case you’d already mentioned it.) I thought it was great to be set in Nigeria and centered on juju, but it was definitely the characters that made it wonderful to me. Sunny’s fantastic as the main character, how her albinism is handled, her being jointly American and Nigerian, and the fact of her coming into her powers later & not having known about them. Then bringing in Orlu, Chichi, and Sammy as a quartet set to save the world is awesome. I’m really looking forward to seeing all of them grow and seeing what comes at them next.

    twitter: @akaTheReader

  24. Kari says:

    _The Fifth Season_ by N. K. Jemisin is incredibly moving with rich characters and world-building–at the crux of which are the marginalized people, the orogenes. Because of this book, Jemisin has become one of my favorite authors.

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