I first came across Zen Cho after reading and really enjoying her short fiction (which you can find here, on her website, if you're interested) and I was already excited to hear she was publishing a novel, then doubly so when I started reading about its premise. Then I was being tormented on Twitter by folks with ARC, all of whom seemed to be gushing about it, which made me want it even more!
The main character of Sorcerer to the Crown (or one of them, at least) is Zacharias Wythe, who has recently become Sorcerer Royal on the death of his guardian, Sir Stephen Wythe - to say this succession is unpopular is putting it mildly, since the novel is set during the Regency and Zacharias is African. There is also something of a mystery surrounding both the death of Sir Stephen and the disappearance of his familiar, which adds weight to the idea that Zacharias' promotion was also a little suspicious.
The world of the thaumaturge is very hierarchical, where your social standing is as important as your abilities - equally, of course, since its study is the province of (mostly) upper class men, with upper and middle class women being encouraged to control and/or subdue any magical powers rather than learn how to use them. Alongside this, we hear of numerous examples of how witchcraft is used on a day-to-day basis, though this is clearly the preserve of servants and the like, being also immensely practical.
As well as the problems he faces with the opposition to his role as Sorcerer Royal, Zacharias has another problem as English magic seems to be diminishing. This puts him into a precarious position in relation to the government, who would very much like to not have to allow the thaumaturges to effectively govern themselves and would also like the Sorceror Royal to help them with a little problem they're having in Malaysia. To avoid this, as much as anything, Zacharias agrees to give a speech at a girls' school and there meets someone who is also in difficulties because of who she is - Prunella Gentleman, who is clearly the child of a mixed marriage and who has been subsisting on charity till now, a position which her magical tendencies are going to render impossible to maintain.
Understandably, comparisons have been drawn between Sorcerer to the Crown and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and they're not completely wrong - this is, however, for the most part a lighter book than that and also one which is more about the position of outsiders in a society where they don't quite fit in. I have to admit, I was looking at giving this book 4 stars for quite a while, but then the author does a couple of things with major characters that I really didn't see coming and from that point on I couldn't put it down.
Sorcerer to the Crown is, as is often the way of things in SFF, the first of a trilogy and I look forward to seeing where the author takes this story onwards, however it can just as easily be read as a stand-alone novel since everything pretty much wraps up by the end of the book, so don't let the prospect of two more books put you off!