lunes, 14 de noviembre de 2016

Antonio Díaz reviews Sorcerer to the Crown, by Zen Cho

The indefatigable Antonio Díaz is back with a new, extremely interesting review, in this case of Sorcerer to the Crown, the first novel by Zen Cho. Hope you like it!

Review Soundtrack: I suggest reading this review while listening to Journey of the Sorcerer, by Eagles (Spotify, YouTube).

Zen Cho debuted with the novel Sorcerer to the Crown, Best Newcomer BSFA winner. My only previous experience with Cho has been Prudence and the Dragon, a short story translated into Spanish by Marcheto. Said short story felt very entertaining and reminded me of the typical shoujo mangas.

Sorcerer to the Crown owes a clear debt to Susanna Clarke's excellent Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Both novels’ settings are very similar: Regency England where society has an extra caste, wizards, and, even though they were pretty powerful in the past, nowadays they've lost most of their power due to the mysterious decrease of magic levels throughout the country. Despite this painstakingly identical setting, both books move in different, almost opposite, directions. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell is a slow and thoughtful novel, full with explanations regarding Regency society and that spends more time in developing a complex plot with many threads and points of view than entertaining the reader. Meanwhile, Sorcerer to the Crown cuts to the chase and is way more direct, with a simpler central mystery (that is also satisfying in its own way) and much more action.

One of the main characters, Zacharias, is a black man in a retrograde and racist society and is constantly attacked and despised by his “equals” while he tries to find out why England magic is mostly depleted. He is a balanced and believable character that gift us with some of the best scenes in the novel. Meanwhile, he is eclipsed by Prunella, an instant love-or-hate character that will decide if you like or hate this book. Prunella lives in a residence for young women with special abilities (i.e. magic) and that spends most of her time being taught how to repress them. Prunella is a whirlwind that lords over the other characters and bends them to her will. This powerful presence absorbs the spotlight in every scene, being in some cases excessive. In the secondary character department the book is correct, with several English lords and other characters that are distinguishable but forgettable. Mak Genggang is the exception to the rule, a malayan priestess that reminded me of the legendary Baba Yaga and stars some hilarious moments.

Zen Cho shows her talent for action and comedy. Sorcerer to the Crown is a book with a lot of movement and in which something is always happening. This skill to make us keep turning the page is to be admired in this type of books and I personally finished it in about two days. Cho keeps the reader intrigued and interested throughout, albeit some characters’ stridencies can make the book intolerable fast enough. There are also some plot twists that are very exaggerated and some Mary Sue characteristics always present. On the other side, Sorcerer to the Crown is quite standalone even if it is the first volume in a trilogy.

One of the main topics the novel delves in the equality and women and minority discrimination. Those are good topics to explore within the chosen setting, as the Regency Era was full of changes but also full of racism and sexism. However, Zen Cho goes too far and takes society ability to accept change further than what I can believe it would allow. That said without mentioning that she puts the will of the stronger before any meritocracy, which probably would be the criteria to follow. Is also true that probably nobody is going to read this book for the injustice its denouncing but because they are drawn by the historical setting and adventure novels.

Looking back, I see a lot of similarities between Prudence and the Dragon and Sorcerer to the Crown. Both works contain very strong female characters which are also very impulsive, mysterious strangers and a mix between reality and overwhelming magic. I suggest any reader to take a look first at the short story and decide if they like Cho's style. If you like Prudence and the Dragon you will probably like Sorcerer to the Crown. In any case, and despite its problems, it is a very entertaining product that will be worth the while even if it doesn't get better than that. Total summer read.

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)

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