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.