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Sorcerer to the Crown

Cover of Sorcerer to the Crown

Sorcerer to the Crown

by Zen Cho
In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite...

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty's lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn't even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England's once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven't stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man's profession...

At his wit's end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England's magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large...
In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite...

The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty's lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn't even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England's once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven't stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man's profession...

At his wit's end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England's magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large...
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    PROLOGUE

    THE MEETING OF the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers was well under way, and the entrance hall was almost empty. Only the occasional tardy magician passed through, scarcely sparing a glance for the child waiting there.

    Boy children of his type were not an uncommon sight in the Society's rooms. The child was unusual less for his complexion than for his apparent idleness. Unlike the Society's splendidly liveried pages, he was soberly dressed, and he was young for a page boy, having just attained his sixth summer.

    In fact, Zacharias held no particular employment, and he had never seen the Society before that morning, when he had been conducted there by the Sorcerer Royal himself. Sir Stephen had adjured him to wait, then vanished into the mysterious depths of the Great Hall.

    Zacharias was awed by the stately building, with its sombre wood-panelled walls and imposing paintings, and he was a little frightened of the grave thaumaturges hurrying past in their midnight blue coats. Most of all he was rendered solemn by the seriousness of his task. He sat, swollen with purpose, gazing at the doors to the Great Hall, as though by an effort of will he might compel them to open and disgorge his guardian.

    Finally, the moment came: the doors opened, and Sir Stephen beckoned to him.

    Zacharias entered the Great Hall under the penetrating gaze of what seemed to be a thousand gentlemen, most of them old, and none friendly. Sir Stephen was the only person he knew, for one could not count Sir Stephen's familiar Leofric, who slept curled in reptilian coils at the back of the room, smoke rising from his snout.

    The thickest-skinned child might have been cowed by such an assembly, and Zacharias was sensitive. But Sir Stephen put a reassuring hand on his back, and Zacharias remembered the morning, so long ago now—home, safety, warmth, and Lady Wythe's face bending over him:

    "Never be afraid, Zacharias, but do your best. That will be quite enough, for you have been taught by the finest sorcerer in the realm. If the attention of so many gentlemen should make you nervous, simply pretend to yourself that they are so many heads of cabbages. That always assists me on such occasions."

    Zacharias was pretending as hard as he could as he was propelled to the front of the room, but the cabbages did not seem to help. To be sure, Lady Wythe had never been called upon to prove the magical capacities of her race before the finest thaumaturgical minds in England. It was a grave responsibility, and one anyone would find daunting, thought Zacharias, even if he were a great boy of six.

    "What do you wish to bring alive, Zacharias?" said Sir Stephen. He gestured at a small wooden box on a table. "In the course of his travels Mr. Midsomer acquired this box, carved with birds and fruit and outlandish animals. You may have your pick."

    Zacharias had rehearsed the enchantment he was to perform many times under Sir Stephen's patient tutelage. The night before, he had fallen asleep reciting the formula to himself. Yet now, as he was surrounded by a crowd of strange faces, oppressed by the consciousness of being the focus of their attention, memory deserted him.

    His terrified gaze swung from Sir Stephen's kind face, skipped over the audience, and roamed over the Great Hall, as if he might find the words of the spell waiting for him in some dusty corner. It was the oldest room in the Society, and boasted several interesting features, chief of which were the ancient carved bosses on the ceiling. These represented lambs, lions and unicorns; faces of long-dead sorcerers; and Green Men with sour expressions and vines sprouting from their...

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 17, 2015
    Set in the excruciatingly class-conscious realm of an alternate 19th-century England, Cho’s delightful debut novel skillfully blends fantasy and intrigue with issues of race and gender politics. Zacharias Wythe, the child of enslaved Africans, has spent almost all of his 24 years apprenticing under his English adoptive father, Sir Stephen Wythe, Sorcerer Royal and member of the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers. When Sir Stephen dies and Zacharias is reluctantly thrust into power, the Society is outraged at the thought of a black man governing its ilk and chooses to blame Britain’s dwindling magical resources—actually a longtime crisis—on the color of Zacharias’s skin. At Mrs. Daubeney’s School for Gentlewitches, where girls are trained to suppress their magical abilities because they supposedly lack the intelligence to be sorcerers, 19-year-old Prunella Gentlewoman stumbles across a long-forgotten legacy that could be the key to saving Zacharias’s life and restoring Britain’s magic. Cho’s tale knits together a dizzying array of taut story lines populated by complex characters with interesting backstories. Zacharias brings to mind another orphaned young wizard whose combination of grit and melancholy captured readers’ hearts, and ingenious, gutsy Prunella simply shines. Agent: Caitlin Blasdell, Liza Dawson Associates.

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