In which Zen Cho discloses the novels that influenced her upcoming novel, Sorcerer to the Crown. Reader, enter the giveaway – which is open to all, for chance to read the novel in advance.
“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Zen Cho, known for her delightful short stories and novellas, has her first novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, coming out in early September. We invited the author to talk about inspirations and influences.
Please give a warm welcome to Zen Cho!
In Sorcerer to the Crown, Regency England’s first African Sorcerer Royal Zacharias Wythe is trying to reverse the decline in England’s magic, when his plans are hijacked by ambitious runaway orphan and female magical prodigy Prunella Gentleman. Hijinks and disaster ensue!
Sorcerer is a book deliberately and openly written to its influences, in part because that is the sort of writer I am: I’m a remixer. I get my ideas by stealing them from other people.
Often the theft is not obvious, because, of course, to make it interesting you have to make it your own. I once wrote a novelette called The House of Aunts which is a version of Twilight, but nobody could tell because it’s set in a small Malaysian town; the girl is the vampire; the vampire is not even really a vampire; and there are a lot of aunts.
Sorcerer to the Crown‘s antecedents are a little easier to trace. One of the most common comparisons has been to Susanna Clarke’s magisterial Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a book I love (if you ranked the book and my friends in order of how much I love them, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell would come above everyone I met in primary school and just below anyone I’d invite to my wedding). It’s a comparison that any other book can only suffer from, but it’s pretty obvious why it’s being made. Sorcerer is set in a version of Regency London where magic is being done; however, there is not as much magic as everyone would like there to be; and the book deals with issues of gender, race and class.
Despite that, Sorcerer‘s most direct parent is actually the frothy Regency romances of Georgette Heyer. Like Heyer’s romances, Sorcerer features a powerful man who meets a scrappy, irrepressible woman with somewhat less money and power. There are balls, banter and hijinks. There is even a sequence in which the two main characters stay at an inn and the enforced time together helps them to understand each other better.
Because I was trying to write something I’d personally enjoy as a reader, I also stuck in some P. G. Wodehouse, who was writing and publishing around the same time as Heyer. Wodehouse’s stories are ostensibly set in a different era, but let’s be real: the worlds of the books of both Wodehouse and Heyer never existed. Heyer’s rakes and ingenues and Wodehouse’s hapless dandies cavort in a delightful, absorbing, politically distasteful and wholly fictional Arcady.
I wanted Sorcerer to have that quality of joyful artifice, that sense that the reader is in on a delightful joke (though I was trying to ditch the dodgy politics, or at least to question them). Sorcerer abounds in fearsome aunts of the kind that terrified Bertie Wooster. A version of Bertie himself features in the book, along with a take-off of Wodehouse’s less famous but equally lovable Psmith. And Zacharias Wythe is compelled by noblesse oblige to stand in for a friend when he is subjected to the worst trial aunt can devise: giving a speech at a girls’ school.
Finally, I added a pinch of school stories, because like every other Anglophone kid in the former British colonies, I grew up reading Enid Blyton and puzzling over what “tongue sandwiches” were. I always liked Blyton’s school stories best, and some of Sorcerer is set in Mrs. Daubeney’s School for Gentlewitches, where Prunella Gentleman grows up an orphan, part of the school community and yet not quite belonging.
Mrs. Daubeney brought Prunella up, but has her own interests and priorities. Prunella’s vexed relationship with her draws on another children’s book set in a school: A Little Princess, with the tragically orphaned, much oppressed Sara Crewe and the straightforwardly evil headmistress Miss Minchin. You kind of see how Miss Minchin had her reasons, though, and Mrs. Daubeney is not altogether unsympathetic. In any case, Prunella herself, being not at all princess-like, is much better equipped for dealing with her uncertain position than Sara Crewe.
Writing Sorcerer was a process of synthesis, and also of catharsis – of facing those books I loved so much as a kid and forcibly inserting some of the many things they left out, including people like me. It couldn’t have been written without all the books that went before it. It is still something new, I think, and I hope it is something enjoyable. But that’s something readers are going to have to decide for themselves.
About the author:
I was born and raised in Malaysia, and currently live in England.
I mostly write speculative fiction, with the occasional foray into romance. I am represented by Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates. My ideal book would probably be a version of Anne of Green Gables, set in Asia. With dragons!
My short story collection Spirits Abroad was published by Buku Fixi in summer 2014. You can find out more about it here: Spirits Abroad.
I edited a Malaysian cyberpunk anthology for Buku Fixi called Cyberpunk: Malaysia, which came out in summer 2015.
My debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown is forthcoming from Ace Books (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK) in September 2015. Find out more about it here!
We have two signed copies of Sorcerer to the Crown to give away. The sweepstakes is open to ALL and will run until August 15 11:59 AM EST. To enter, use the form below. Good luck!