THE FATE OF ENGLISH MAGIC LIES IN THEIR HANDS…
In Regency London, Zacharias Wythe is England’s first African Sorcerer Royal. He leads the eminent Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, but a malicious faction seeks to remove him by fair means or foul. Meanwhile, the Society is failing its vital duty – to keep stable the levels of magic within His Majesty’s lands. The Fairy Court is blocking its supply, straining England’s dangerously declining magical stores. And now the government is demanding to use this scarce resource in its war with France.
Ambitious orphan Prunella Gentleman is desperate to escape the school where she’s drudged all her life, and a visit by the beleaguered Sorcerer Royal seems the perfect opportunity. For Prunella has just stumbled upon English magic’s greatest discovery in centuries – and she intends to make the most of it.
At his wits’ end, the last thing Zachariah needs is a female magical prodigy! But together, they might just change the nature of sorcery, in Britain and beyond.
Source: ARC from Pan Macmillan via NetGalley
Prunella is awful. I can’t help myself, I have to say it. She truly is an awful character. I liked Zacharias a lot, I thought the Regency setting was nicely done, even the plot had its enjoyable moments, but as for Prunella… no, sorry. I disliked her excessively.
But let’s start with the good. This tale owes more than a little to Georgette Heyer and I felt plenty of her influence in the setting, with the manners and language and habits of the gentlemen of the Society. It’s done with a lovely light touch, giving off the air of a historical setting without entirely alienating the modern reader, and I liked it, even if I did wish for just one or two more young men with a touch less prejudice and a bit more of the reforming zeal that frequently swept through the young men of the time. This is a historical setting that’s all about manners and dress, without getting too caught up in the actual history.
As for Zacharias, as I’ve already said, I really liked him, even if his surprising naivety sometimes annoyed me. I also wished he’d been a little less polite and well-mannered at times. His ability to remain calm and collected under severe provocation was admirable, but sometimes I wished he gave as good as he got from the rude, racist, snobbish, awful fools who seemed to be the only men in possession of magic. I also wished he could see Prunella for what she really was, instead of viewing her through the thoroughly distorted lens of delicate womanhood.
Because, as I’ve already said, she’s a terrible person. It’s not just her ambition, which is enormous, but her selfish manipulations and her reckless disregard for anyone but herself. In fact, she’s a headstrong, foolish girl, who rides roughshod over anyone unlucky enough to get in her way, who trusts absolutely no one, thinks of no one but herself and tops it all off by being terribly vain. Yes, she is very powerful and I could understand how frustrating she must have found that, since women aren’t allowed to use strong magic in this Regency world, but the way she goes about everything just felt wrong to me. I would have been happiest if her arrogance had led her familiars to eat her.
Having said that, there’s plenty to enjoy in this book, if you don’t mind the slow pace of the plot and the sometimes infuriating actions of the characters. I loved that neither Zacharias nor Prunella were white, even if both have been raised in the strict English mode so end up feeling the bad sides of both – well, Zacharias does, anyway. Prunella seems to get away without too much fuss. I also enjoyed the connection between magic and Fairy, and I loved the interference of Mak Genggang, the powerful Malaysian sorceress with her own agenda. I also really liked Rollo and there were times when the inventive magical shenanigans reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones.
However, while there’s plenty about this that I enjoyed, my dislike of Prunella made reading it a bit of a chore at times and the pace does drag a bit. I also wanted Zacharias to prove his strength and show everyone that he really was not someone to be messed with. As for the ending, well, let’s just say it didn’t exactly fill me with glee – even if the caterpillars did.
If you like your fantasy mixed with a light historical setting, or you love Georgette Heyer and wish she’d added some magic at times, and you aren’t bothered by obnoxious young heroines who deserve to get eaten by dragons (yet who never get what they really deserve), then you might well enjoy this. There’s certainly plenty of potential for more, although I fear my strong feelings towards Prunella will likely prevent me from ever reading any further in this series.
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