Stuff I Read

Sorcerer to the Crown Review

(This was originally posted on my now-defunct Dreamwidth blog)

I finished Sorcerer to the Crown yesterday, nearly in one sitting. If I have Wiscon to thank for nothing else, it’s for getting me reading again. Like many others, I had been suffering from a bit of a strange “reading block,” where new fiction just wasn’t capturing me the way it usually does. I had been avoiding reading anything new because of it, as I knew from past experience that whatever I read while feeling that way would suffer. Thankfully, I greatly enjoyed both Sorcerer to the Crown itself, but also the feeling of just reading again. (Good thing too, as I went a little wild on A Room of One’s Own Wiscon Rec List, so I have a number of new books winging their way here.)

I’m not a great reviewer, but some general impressions below.

***Here be spoilers***

On Plot and Foreshadowing:

  • I missed most of the foreshadowing surrounding Stephen’s death and Leofric’s current situation. I had sort of put it together in my head, but it “felt” unexpected. I’m not great at guessing twist endings to begin with, so I’m inclined to believe this is a fault of the reader, not the text. On the other side, the reveal of Ms. Midsomer felt incredibly obvious to me, so take that as you will.
  • Along the same lines, I bet this is a book that greatly rewards the rereader. I recall Zacharias calling out to Leofric at a particularly dramatic moment and I noted it, but it didn’t make any sense at the time.

On Worldbuilding:

  • I found it difficult to get into the world at first. I’m not overly conversant with Victorian England – I’m not sure this even is Victorian England. Is it Edwardian England?
  • While I was reading the prologue, I was consciously thinking “please be a prologue. I don’t want to read about kids right now.” Thankfully, it was. And the combination of the protagonist being a Black man – and this being addressed! – and the abrupt arrival of a ghost were enough to pull me in. Once I got past the first few chapters, I was off and running.
  • The depiction of Fairy here reminds me of Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. Cho did an amazing job showing that Fairy lives by its own morals that have no real relationship to humanity’s moral framework. While they are presented as thoroughly alien; they are not inscrutable. It’s clear they do have a moral code – just not one we can truly understand.
  • Wait, but why are people giving away their souls? What are souls?
  • Am I the only one who thought that Ms. Midsomer turned into Ursula from The Little Mermaid there at the end?

On Writing:

  • I found the singing stones to be an apt metaphor for Cho’s writing. It was clear that each word was set down with great care. I really love authors who wield language like a particularly precise weapon. Once I found the rhythm of it, it was exquisite.
  • I had no idea going in that this was going to be funny. Sometimes the humor was a bit absurdist for me, but that’s definitely a personal preference. Also, had I approached this with the right mindset, I might not have been so flummoxed when all the weirdness came out to play. I eventually found my footing, but that Ursula moment at the end had me raising my eyebrows a bit.

On Characters:

  • This was the weakest part of the book for me. Prunella never really meets an obstacle that sets her back for more than a few hours, and the plotting around Zacharias – and perhaps the pacing of the novel in general – comes together like clockwork.
  • Part of the problem may be the very formal language. The language of the novel – and the dialog of the characters – isn’t really the right tool for conveying emotion. That seems appropriate for the period, but left me with characters that were intriguing and interesting, but didn’t have much of a rich emotional life.
  • I’m struggling with Prunella a bit. I quite liked her character, her dialog, and her attitude. But she never really seemed to have a moment of doubt, or of struggle. I think what I’m missing here is that she doesn’t seem to really have a character arc. She has a plot arc, certainly, but her character doesn’t so much grow and change as reveal itself to us. The Prunella at the beginning of the book is largely the Prunella at the end of the book, just with more status. I keep wondering if Prunella’s arc would have been “more acceptable” is she’d been male, but I don’t think so in this case. If she’d been male (and/or white) it just would have been every other Secret Prince story.
  • For that matter, the Zacharias at the beginning is the same Zacharias as at the end, just less some burdens he didn’t particularly want. I liked his character, just as I liked Prunella’s, but really felt like everyone was very stuck in who they were when they started. This may be because the story, as far as I can tell, takes place in an incredibly compressed amount of time.
  • Similarly, I didn’t feel like the side characters got nearly as much attention as they deserved. They were set pieces that revolved around the main pair, and they had quirks and plot beats, but I didn’t much care about any of them, other than being amused by their antics.

My overall review is that I enjoyed the book enough to continue with the series. The worldbuilding, plotting, and language were excellent, but I generally prefer more character-centric stories and I don’t feel I found that here.

Edited to add: If you like this, you’ll probably also like The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodora Goss. They felt very similar to me.