In many ways Sorcerer to the Crown is what Jane Austen would have written if she were a full on fantasy writer in modern times. It would have to be modern times because the hero is black and the heroine is brown. It has to be fantasy because this world has magic users, magical creatures, and familiar spirits. And almost everyone is smart, except the human villains who turn out to be totally impotent; it’s their magical accomplices who have both real power and personality. There’s also a degree of feminism that’s absent in Austen, both from Prunella’s assertiveness, but also the lamia ruler Mak Genggang and the dragon Georgiana Without Ruth. Together, these three ladies outclass all the men in terms of their magical abilities and their being able to solve problems and get things done satisfactorily.
Prunella is in a lot of ways the main character of the story as she’s the one who moves things forwards. She often has no idea what she’s doing and she’s stubborn and outgoing. But she’s still likable. Her counterpart is Zacharias Wythe, the head sorcerer in England, but who’d rather not have the job. He inherited it from his adoptive father who died unexpectedly in mysterious circumstances, mysterious at least to everyone but Zacharias as we find out towards the end. He’s something of an introvert who would have much preferred to be left alone to study and experiment with his magic. Prunella also has a mystery to solve about her past, but it’s as mysterious to her as anyone else.
The plot revolves around these 2 key mysteries, and are somewhat connected by the problem Zacharias spends a good bit of the story wondering about and investigating: England is losing magic. There are politics, both supernatural and human, plots and schemes, characters assumed human who actually are not, and generally a lot of entertaining misdirection.
Part of the entertainment factor for me comes from the style of speech which is very Austen-esque combined with the modern attributes of fantasy. Zacharias is a man straight out of Austen, and while Prunella sounds like she is too, she’s far to modern in a lot of ways. She goes husband- hunting, aided by one of Zacharias’ few friends, Damerell, blatantly admitting that she wants a rich husband who can pay for her to work at magic as she wants to.
As with any respectable Austen book, both hero and heroine get what they want. Zacharias gets to go back to his academic ways, Prunella gets a high social position, and the promise of a rich husband. Naturally, they agree to marry each other, which is a really cute scene. Zacharias asks Prunella’s permission to kiss her, and she gets annoyed with him for not being bolder about it. They probably will be a good couple, and I hope I get to see more of them together is a sequel.