Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sorcerer to the Crown

Oh, how I wanted to love Sorcerer to the Crown.  Because of all the amazing reviews.  Because I enjoyed other things I've read by Zen Cho.  I was waiting for it to come out, and then Netgalley sent me a copy, and I started it right away, and....

Well, actually, what happened was that I ran into a problem reading the Netgalley copy on my Kindle, because it was a PDF, and the cropping made the font very tiny and hard to adjust.  My eyes aren't great, so the tiny font was kind of a dealbreaker--I read a few pages at a time with a kind of grim determination, but petered out fairly quickly.

But then I managed to figure out how to crop the PDF so it read a little easier, and I started going further,, it was still too small to read comfortably (seriously, guys, my eyesight, I'm not even kidding).  By this point, I'm 2/3 of the way through the book, and it languishes for another month.

Finally, though, I got my hands on a print copy from the library and, for the first time in probably months, sit down to read an actual book in actual hardcover.  Maybe this was the solution, because the last third was by far the most interesting. 

But alas--I didn't love this book as much as I wanted to.  I found it slow; we spent far too much time with the staid, upright, rather boring Zachariah and not nearly enough time with the confident, no-nonsense, cocky Prunella.  We spent too much time having the same conversations in different drawing rooms, rather than (best) adventures or (a decent second) different conversations in really whichever drawing rooms, would be fine.

But there WAS so much to love about the book, and I will tell it to you now.  Aside from the obvious and unusual focus on non-white people in this type of Regency novel (I don't actually know what Regency means, but suffice it to say England between 1700 and 1900), the details of how these characters are dealt with are so lovely and real.  Zachariah's internal conflict between love for his mentor and adoptive parents and resentment that they forced him into all kinds of roles he didn't want to play; his mentor's true love for him contrasted with the low-grade, unthinking racism of his time; Prunella's status as somewhere between white and not, somewhere between gentlewoman and not.  The subtleties of living in a world that claims not to hold things against you but, on one level or another, does.  All of that is brilliantly done.

Prunella herself is such a delight to read about.  She's intensely competent, determined in her goals (whatever they may be), and a gifted player of the game.  I was quite shocked by the ending, actually, and the calculated, somewhat ruthless choices that she makes, but that only made her a better character.  She moves through a world that will never be easy with an indifferent ease, and it's hard no to love her for it, even if it makes her feel somewhat distant much of the time. 

In the end, I think this is the review I related to most, even though I actually enjoy authors like Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, in their own right.  I don't feel as apologetic as she does, but I did find the language a slog, and I found that it felt like I was being put at a distance from the story, rather than drawn into it the way that the original books or even my favorite imitators (Joan Aiken, say) do. 

So close to being my book, really, but in the end, sadly, not my book.


Aarti said...

Oh, no! I really enjoyed this book, though I agree that character development is not Zen Cho's strong point. I think I am looking forward to the NEXT book, in which, I hope, Prunella kicks butt and Zacharia just lets her do her thang.

LibraryHungry said...

Yes! I think I would have loved that. My favorite scenes were Prunella at the boarding school, being super competent at both magic and managing girls. There was just a lot of standing around talking in this one, and the stop-and-start way I read it slowed me up too much to enjoy it.