'Sorcerer to the Crown' - Book Review

Sorcerer to the Crown
by Zen Cho
Ace, 371 pages

From page one of the book it's made clear that Zacharias Wythe is very out of place in the book's pseudo-Victorian (or perhaps "pseudo-Georgian") England: he's very dark-skinned, and through machinations (not of his own doing) that are kept from us until late in the book, he's now Sorcerer Royal - the most important magician in this alternative England. "Ah," I thought, "our author plans to address racism." Around page 40 it became evident that she intended to address sexism as well - maybe a bit much for your first book ... On page 45, we were introduced to a young woman, an orphan without family or fortune who also has dark skin. I say "without family or fortune" as Cho was trying, desperately and not terribly successfully, to emulate Jane Austen's handling of prose, society events, and relationships. Within five pages of this character's introduction I knew that the author intended this young woman to become Zacharias' wife. Cho left it to the end of the book to close that deal, as if it were somehow a mystery or a surprise. And she did it in such a utilitarian way as to leach out any possible romance.

In between, Zacharias has to ward off multiple attacks, both magical and political. His worst political problem is solved not by his own ingenuity, but by an abrupt and extraordinarily convenient shift in circumstances that plays to his ends. Some of the other things he solves himself, but that almost deus ex machina moment really threw me off.

Her characters are all ... unsubtle. And even given her broad strokes, I found some of the character's actions unbelievable. Some of the characters are at least charming, and that kept me reading. Her attempts to write English Victorian or Georgian prose ... well, I hope she changes to a more modern voice in her next book.