First of all, I just want to make sure that everyone understands that while this book has a similar style to the regency/Austen style found in Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, and a somewhat similar premise (the revival of magic in Napoleon-era England), they are COMPLETELY different books. Cho’s book is a lot of fun, and I’m a fan of the story they told, but it’s almost completely unfair to compare it to the tome that is Clarke’s book in terms of intricacy of language, characters, and plot. I am a fan of this writing style, and while I think it was a bit ambitious for what it is trying to do, it might not have been the right choice.
In any case, here’s the plot: It’s Napoleon-Era England, and magicians are upset due to the fact that magic is fading in England and that their new Sorcerer Royal (AKA, head of their Society) is a freed slave. In an attempt to save English magic, Zacharias, the aforementioned Royal Sorcerer, takes a secret trip to Northern England to the border between the Fairy Realm to find out why England’s magic is being drained under the premise of speaking at an all-girl’s magic school. What- or rather who- he finds at the school might just be the key to saving English magic.
As I said, I liked the style a lot, even if I think the plot could have used a little more cohesion and pacing. I know that this novel is based on the characters we meet, but it felt as though it was trying to focus on minute details to build a world that isn’t entirely unfamiliar to anyone who’s read Jane Austin. It set up some interesting premises, such as the court at Fairyland, but didn’t feel like it followed up on them.
And the characters: I wished we had focused more on Zacharias! His struggle felt real and heartbreaking through the book, and the threats that hung over his head felt solid and real. I was genially scared for him, and felt sympathy with what he was trying to do. Prunella? Not so much. She has struggles too, but she also gets a lot handed to her, and she doesn’t have to deal with consequences for most of the book. There are no threats that feel solid against her-she even proves that she’s resourceful enough that if she doesn’t end up married, as is her goal, she would be alright. She can wield incredible power without having to work half as hard as Zacharias, and destroys social barriers with as much ease. Example: She crashes a party in a spectacular matter that causes an incident of international diplomacy, but the only thing that happens is that she gets told she looks beautiful in the gown she’s wearing. Maybe if she was the protagonist in her own novel I would have an easier time with her, but next to Zacharias her plot and character development pale in comparison.
Overall, it was a fun novel to read. I wish some of the elements had been more followed up on, but I guess we might get a chance to see that in the sequels.