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Hugh Likes Fiction: The True Queen

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The True Queen
Written by Zen Cho
Audiobook narrated by Jenny Sterlin
Published by Recorded Books

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The Skinny: Cho’s second Sorcerer Royal novel is just as delightful as the first.

When Muna washes up on a beach after a terrible storm, she can only remember two things: Sakti is her twin sister, and they have both been cursed. In order to break the curse, save her sister and discover who she really is, Muna will have to travel to the distant and strange island of Britain and pass herself off as a great sorceress. But with war brewing between Britain and Faerie within, will she be able to save her sister, or will she be drawn into the intrigues of the Faerie Court, or worse, English high society?
The follow up to the delightful novel Sorcerer To The Crown, Zen Cho returns to her Regency-era fantasy filled with dour magicians, witty witches, and blithely cannibalistic faeries. The author has carried over all of the charm of the first book, telling a new tale with just enough of her beloved cast of characters while introducing new main characters and shifting the spotlight. Muna is a fantastic main character, and I loved spending more time with Henrietta, Rollo, and of course, Ma Geng Gang.
Cho’s fantasy England is centered on the sort of very real people who were pushed to the margins by 19th Century British society: women, people of color, gays and lesbians. Cho deftly presents high society through Muna’s point of view, making it as strange and inaccessible to her as the Faerie Court. It is a welcome and fascinating shift, carried over from the first book that continues to astonish.
Jenny Sterlin returns to narrate, and does an excellent job. Her acting and narration flow well together and her voice is perfectly suited to the story.
The True Queen is a rollicking adventure that builds on its prequel, but new readers won’t be lost if they pick this one up first. It is available in audio, print, and ebook. It has my highest recommendation.
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Hugh Likes Fiction: Sorcerer to the Crown

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Sorcerer to the Crown
Written by Zen Cho
Narrated by Jenny Sterlin
Published by Recorded Books
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At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, Zacharias Whythe is the Sorcerer Royal, head of the Society of Unnatural Philosophers and possibly the greatest sorcerer in England.  But Zacharias is also a freed slave, and his adopted father, the previous Sorcerer Royal, died under mysterious circumstances with his familiar nowhere to be found.  And if his situation weren’t precarious enough, magic is drying up in England.  If he doesn’t solve the situation soon, his enemies in the society will have everything they need to literally take his head.
But the solution to his problems might lay in the hands of two extraordinary women.  Prunella Gentleman is a half-Indian orphaned girl with untapped magical potential and a mysterious inheritance.  Mak Genggang is a Malaysian witch of immense talent with a temper to match, who might save English magic, if she doesn’t declare war on it first.
With a colorful cast of fashionable faerie-folk, scheming society girls and treacherous wizards, this debut novel is an outstanding romp.   It addresses the realities of race and gender in early nineteenth century England in ways that other fantasy romances like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell shy away from.  And it remains clever, fun, and surprising at every turn.  I particularly enjoyed her interpretation of the Faerie peerage.  But my favorite character has to be Mak Genggang by a country mile.  A sassy, no-nonsense witch, she stomps through the novel like a force of nature that reminded me of the witches from the Hayao Miyazaki version of “Howl’s Moving Castle.”  She’s fantastic, and I hope she makes a reappearance in later novels.
I listened to this book via Audible, and the audiobook was narrated by Jenny Sterlin, who does a great job with the material.  Her reading is lively and her characters are strongly delivered without being overacted.  It is an excellent way to experience the story.
Sorcerer to the Crown is the first part in a trilogy, but ends quite satisfyingly, and I give it a hearty recommendation for anyone looking for a historical fantasy novel that’s a bit less vanilla.  You can find the audiobook on Audible, and the print version is available from Amazon or your local book store.

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