Review: Sorcerer to the Crown series by Zen Cho

Don’t you just love it when you find a book that combines your favorite genres?  Fantasy is what I read the most, and Regency romances are my go-to when I want to relax; I get so excited when the two come together!  Historical fantasies set in the Regency period of England are such a treat, and Zen Cho has written an engaging pair of them as her first foray into novel writing.

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Sorcerer to the Crown introduces the troubling state of magic in England during the Napoleonic Wars: the land of Fairy has closed its borders, drying up England’s source of magic, and it is up to the Sorcerer Royal Zacharias Wythe to keep magic from dying.  But that’s not easy for the country’s first black sorcerer, especially one being accused of murder and dealing with mysterious health problems, not to mention the appearance of a troublesome mixed-race orphan named Prunella Gentleman who may just change the course of magic forever.

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The True Queen follows up as a companion novel, following a young amnesiac woman from Malaysia whose sister has been lost in the Fairy realm.  Muna turns to the magicians (well, particularly the magiciennes) of England for help and finds herself entangled in Fairy legends with the fate of both worlds at stake.

Overall, this is a solid duology and I’d be happy to read any further books that Cho writes in this series.

Pros:

  • POC and queer main characters that feel natural to the time period
  • Slow burn romance that is kept as a side plot
  • Themes dealing with the colonialism and sexism of the time
  • Dragons!
  • The prose does not feel modern, but rather more fitting to the period
  • A bit of mystery/suspense, but doesn’t try too hard
  • Sorcerer has Cinderella motifs (with Malaysian witch Mak Genggang as a crazy fairy godmother…)
  • Either novel could stand alone, but they also fit well together

Cons: 

  • Both books can be slow, even in the action-y parts.  It took me a while to get through them.
  • The magic system is interesting but not laid out as clearly as I would like, and so one of Sorcerer’s magic-related plot twists came out of nowhere to me 
  • Sorcerer has a terrible cover that is neither appealing nor informative.  True Queen greatly improved in that regard, but I would love a reprint with better, coordinating covers.

Hope you guys can check these out; happy reading!

 

The Book Snob Tag

pile of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Am I a book snob?  I don’t know, so let’s do a tag and find out.  This seemed liked a fun one to do now that we all have some more time home to read!

This tag was originally created by Tia and All the Books over on Youtube.  I found it on Madame Writer’s blog.

1. Adaptation Snob: Do you always read the book before you see the movie?

Nope.  In fact, with classics many times watching the BBC adaptation has inspired me to read the book (Great Expectations, Middlemarch), which I might not have done otherwise.  In general with popular fiction, I do like to read the book first.

2. Format Snob: You can only choose 1 format in which to read books for the rest of your life. Which one do you choose: physical books, ebooks, or audiobooks?

I think I have to go with ebooks.  I find that physical books really provide the best reading experience, but since becoming a mom the vast majority of my reading is done on Kindle.  It’s portable, I can read with one hand while following my kid around, or in bed, and switch between multiple books easily.  I’m too practical to be a stickler.

I’ve tried a few audiobooks and find I don’t really care for them at all.

3. Ship Snob: Would you date or marry a non-reader?

Probably not, but the issue doesn’t arise because the person I married is a reader.  We both enjoy sci-fi and fantasy; in fact, one of our first real conversations was about The Lord of the Rings.  We even started reading The Expanse series together, which was very fun until he finished the series and I’m stuck in book 4 and now he nags me occasionally about finishing. 🤣

4. Genre Snob: You have to ditch one genre – never to be read again for the rest of your life. Which one do you ditch?

Horror.  Or even thrillers.  Anything that gives me nightmares or anxiety can go.

5. Uber Genre Snob: You can only choose to read from one genre for the rest of your life. Which genre do you choose?

Fantasy!  This almost feels like cheating because it is such a diverse genre.  I love YA fantasy, urban fantasy, high fantasy, fairy tales, magical realism, alternate history, portal fantasy, etc. etc. Three of the last five books I read were some kind of fantasy.  And there are so many classics, like LOTR and Harry Potter, that I could just re-read repeatedly.

6. Community Snob: Which genre do you think receives the most snobbery from the bookish community?

There does seem to be a divide between those that read YA and those that don’t. I’ve seen a lot of disdain for adults that read YA, like myself.  I also think that Romance gets a bad rap.  I was never a fan myself until a few years ago, and now it’s my go-to for a light, quick, uplifting read.  There’s a wide range of quality, but I’ve read many romances that are real page-turners with excellent characters and meaningful themes.

7. Snobbery Recipient: Have you ever been snubbed for something that you have been reading or for reading in general?

Personally, no, I don’t think so.  My parents used to get annoyed when I would read instead of doing chores, does that count?

So, maybe I’m a bit of a snob, but I don’t think I’m too bad.  What about you?  I’m not going to tag anyone specific, but feel free to post your responses in the comments or on your own blog, and leave me a pingback.

My Top 5 Adaptations of Jane Austen Novels

With a new version of Emma hitting theaters, I thought it would be fun to talk about my favorite film and TV adaptations of Jane Austen’s works.

Northanger Abbey (2007)

Northanger Abbey is probably the least-known of Austen’s six main works, so it was such a pleasant surprise to see this competent movie adaptation; it was written by Andrew Davies (more below) and originally aired on PBS Masterpiece in the US.  I particularly liked how they portrayed Catherine’s crazy Gothic fantasies. Henry Tilney is my favorite Austen hero, and I felt this production did him justice, with JJ Feild portraying him as properly genial, level-headed, and quietly charming.  The cast also includes nice turns by Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan.

Felicity Jones in Northanger Abbey (2007)
Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland

Favorite scene: Catherine is investigating her room at the Abbey by candlelight during a stormy night and finds a mysterious document…which is revealed to be a laundry list in the morning light.

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Sense and Sensibility is one of Austen’s more popular works, and I have no doubt that it is due in part to this movie.  It was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture, and won for best adapted screenplay (which was written by its star, Emma Thompson); it helped make director Ang Lee into a household name here in the US.  There’s just so much to love about it: the production quality, the acting, the humor, how it lets not only the love stories but also the Dashwood sisters’ relationship shine through.  

Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Emilie François in Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Marianne, Margaret, and Elinor Dashwood

Favorite scene: After her mother and two younger sisters have all retreated to their rooms in tears for various reasons, Eleanor sits down quietly on the stairs with a cup of tea.  (Also, every scene with Hugh Laurie as Mr. Palmer.)

I also greatly enjoyed the 2008 BBC miniseries Sense & Sensibility written by Andrew Davies; I think it is one of the best of their newer round of adaptations.

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

Ever since I saw this movie in theaters I have been in awe of how well it condenses Pride and Prejudice into approximately two hours.  (This also happens to be my husband’s favorite Austen adaptation, and he has been known to watch it even without me!) The characterization is marvelous, and there is not a weak spot in the entire cast.  Lizzy’s parents come across as quirky but likeable, and Matthew Macfadyen’s introverted Darcy is just so good I have no words.  I love how the costumes and scenery make the world seemed “lived in.”  The score is also highly memorable, meriting an Oscar nomination (it garned four in total).

As an adaptation of the novel, my only complaint is the ending: while it is lovely and romantic, it is a bit too Romantic for Austen.  I cannot see her characters ever wandering about the moors en deshabille.

Definitely not Austen…but do we care?

Favorite scene: When Lizzy and Jane leave Bingley’s home of Netherfield after Jane’s illness, Darcy hands Lizzy into the carriage then turns his back and walks away, flexing his hand slightly.

Persuasion (1995)

Persuasion is my favorite Austen novel, partly because Anne Elliot is the heroine whom I am most like (let’s say…retiring).  It was the last novel Austen wrote, and consequently seems a bit more mature in tone, dealing with second chances for Anne, the oldest Austen heroine.  The movie adaptation perfectly captures this thoughtfulness while still delivering a romance that will have you gripping chair backs as much as Anne does.  The use of the settings of Lyme and Bath is lovely, too.

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Favorite scene: At tea with the Musgroves, her sister’s in-laws, Anne sits thoughtfully and silently as each member of the family takes a turn confiding their various interpersonal squabbles to her.

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

The year was 2003; I was doing a group project for my 11th grade British Lit class, based on Pride and Prejudice, which we read for class.  One of the girls was quite artistic, so we made a giant movie poster-style banner with Lizzy and Darcy in front of Pemberley.  And while we drew and painted in my parents’ basement, we decided to get inspiration by watching all six VHS tapes of the BBC miniseries, which I procured from the library.

I now own two or three different copies of it and have watched it probably a hundred times.  You just can’t improve on perfection.

Written once again by the esteemed Andrew Davies, this adaptation follows so closely to the book, I really think it takes the majority of its dialogue straight from there.  It takes six episodes, 5.5 hours in total, to develop the plot and characters perfectly, treating even side characters with warmth and humor to make up a rich tapestry that perfectly encapsulates Austen’s view of life in country society at the time.  Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth are an iconic Lizzy and Darcy.

Favorite scene: Anything featuring Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Me to my toddler, everyday

Honorable mention: Mansfield Park (1999)

Okay, I don’t think many people would claim that this movie is an excellent, or even good, adaptation of Austen’s novel (which happens to be my least favorite of hers anyways).  It is targeted to modern sensibilities, sexing up the story and making the heroine Fanny a bit too spunky when she’s really just quiet and judgy.  But I will say that this movie made me engage with and appreciate the story more, which is really one of the goals of any adaptations.

Favorite scene: The ending, where the narrator (kind of a mix of Fanny and Jane Austen) recounts how all the characters end up, saying “It could have turned out differently, I suppose…” [All the characters pause and look thoughtful] “…but it didn’t.” [Characters go about their business being ridiculous]

You may notice I haven’t included any version of Emma on this list; while it is not one of my favorite Austen stories, I have seen three versions of it (Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsdale, Romola Garai) and enjoyed all of them.  I am looking forward to seeing the new version once it comes to DVD.

I also want to give a shout out to Love and Friendship, the witty 2016 adaptation of the epistolary novella Lady Susan; I’d really only recommend it for Austen superfans, but I found it entertaining.

Which of these adaptations is your favorite?  Several are available on streaming so you can enjoy them over the next few weeks of social distancing!

Two Monarchies Sequence by W.R. Gingell

You may have noticed that I love fairy tales and fairy tale retellings.  So how about a whole series of them?!  W.R. Gingell delivers with the Two Monarchies Sequence, a lovely fantasy series with many fairy tale inspirations.  For the most part, these are not straight retellings, but rather stories that take a recognizable fairy tale concept and twist it all around.   The result is a series that feels comfortably familiar yet at the same time keeps you on your toes.

Also, if you judge books by their covers, these ones are gorgeous.

The series is set in the titular two monarchies, Civet and Glause, two countries whose history is…complicated to say the least.  There is also some time travel involved in several spots, which does not help clear things up! The series begins with Spindle, obviously inspired by Sleeping Beauty, in which Polyhymnia is awakened not by a prince, but by an absentminded-genius enchanter named Luck…and that’s just the beginning of her troubles.  Next follow Blackfoot (with some hints of Puss in Boots) and Staff and Crown, which follow unlikely hero Annabel’s path to the throne of New Civet.  

The last book, Clockwork Magician, will be released this week; it features Annabel’s friend and budding magician Peter, who is in truth a fairly annoying person, yet the author somehow manages to make him lovable.  That’s a kind of magic all on its own!

Also in the sequence is Masque, a murder mystery inspired by Beauty and the Beast; though this one is chronologically last, I actually read it first!  It’s one of my favorite BatB stories of all time. There is also a Little Red Riding Hood story, Wolfskin, in the same setting, though it does not cross over with any of the other stories.

What do all these great stories have in common?  Excellent quirky characters that will come to feel like friends, an intriguing system of magic, some mystery and thrills, and some lovely romance.  Occasionally it feels like the story or characters are moving a bit too fast to catch, but a touch of confusion is part of the charm of these books.

This series was my first introduction to Gingell’s writing, and it quickly made me a fan.  I’m sure it will do the same for my fellow fairy tale-lovers!

Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy by W.R. Gingell

I’m back with further recommendations from Tasmanian indie author W.R. Gingell.  I’ve already raved about her urban fantasy series, but if you prefer good old classic fantasy with elves and magic, check out her Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy.

This entertaining series of short novels has a lot to recommend itself.  It’s a very solid fantasy series, with a good system of magic and worldbuilding.  You’ll see some fairy tale tropes mixed in, but the stories give them some twists so that it feels more like original fantasy than a retelling.  In addition to fantasy, each has a bit of mystery/intrigue and romance. To break down each book a little further…

Twelve Days of Faery 

To start the series, an enchantress agrees to help a king stop the deadly curse that is being laid on any lady who catches his son’s eye. Her reward will be the prince’s hand, but is that what she really wants?  This book sets the stage for the trilogy by establishing some conflict between humans and fae, and uncovering the first shard of the titular broken sword. It’s also an engaging mystery with charming characters.

Fire in the Blood 

Next, a prince and his dragon must solve level after level of puzzles to free a princess from her imprisonment in a tower…but not all is quite as it seems at first. This one is my personal favorite, mostly because I loved all the puzzles in getting through the tower.  I also really liked how the dragons were done, as well as the subtle Asian/Middle Eastern influence. And I adored the princess’s crazy family and would love more stories about them.

First Chill of Autumn 

An epic conclusion that brings together characters from the first two novels, as a young woman tries to save her kingdom from a Fae invasion.  This one is the most complex, and the ending is bittersweet. For that reason I didn’t like it quite as much, though I think it is probably a stronger story for it.

As you may have inferred, each of the first two books can be read as a stand-alone, while the third one brings together themes and characters from each of the first two.  The characters are so engaging you will definitely want more of them. You can get the books individually or buy the whole series together (plus a short story) on Smashwords for $6.99.  There’s even a paperback version available on Amazon (but it’s expensive😢).

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Happy reading!