Book Club: “Sorcerer to the Crown”, microaggressions, and diaspora

Here’s the second of two GF book club posts about Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. You can read the first chapter for free online and check out the first book club post about it. Then proceed — spoilers under the cut!

UK cover of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

UK cover of Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Cruciat-ish, or, Magic and Microaggressions

[Context: Damerell has just told Zacharias Wythe that white magicians seek to remove Wythe from the post of Sorcerer Royal.]

Zacharias observed to his relief that there seemed to be limitations to the concern a man could feel at the burdens loaded upon him. His organ of anxiety was already so exercised that this new complication only provoked irritation.

Cho has a keen eye for all the little ways high-status people perform dominance over low-status people, and for the cumulative toll this takes on the latter. To quote a Yuletide “dear author” letter, it’s fascinating to consider Zacharias Wythe’s loyalty to Stephen.

His repression is so complete! And matter-of-fact. And daunting, in the context of his upbringing and everything he’s given up…. The definitive expression of his feelings–respect, reserve, and quiet affection, for the most part–is to let himself be eaten alive. Yeah. It’s a great authorial statement about how far the constructive power of that relationship goes, and where it stops.

I’m hoping to understand better the different ways Gentleman and Wythe respond to microaggressions, and in particular how to read their engagement with respectability politics — comments welcome!

The Diasporan Ugly Duckling

[Context: Gentleman has just used the orb to see the message her mother, the Grand Sorceress of Seringapatam, recorded for her.]

“She looks just like me!” she said.

So, I’m diasporan. My parents came from India and bore and raised me in the United States. They tried to give me opportunities to see and interact with people like me, and to learn my heritage language. But I resisted this, for a bunch of reasons.

And I know that electric shock of seeing that a role model looks like me. Kalpana Chawla, one of the astronauts killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia re-entry. And even more than that I know the disorientation and joy of finding that a cultural or professional role model looks or sounds like she could be my aunt. Seeing a photo of the sari-wearing women who put an Indian satellite into orbit around Mars. Walking into a Carl Brandon Society speech at WisCon and hearing Vandana Singh talk about writing scifi!

The myth of the ugly duckling says: you’re not ugly, you just haven’t been shown a representation of yourself and learned how it’s beautiful. And when you come into yourself and claim your own identity, you’ll soar. Prunella Gentleman sees the charismatic, powerful, gorgeous woman who mothered her, and recognizes her kinship — that iconic diaspora experience latched onto my heart.

All The Fun Bits

I do not mean to limit discussion to Serious Social Justice Topics only. I thought the romance had that delightful quality causing me to say “YOU LOVE EACH OTHER, YOU FOOLS!” without actually dismissing the lovers-to-be as clueless. Rollo Threlfall is of course a Bertie Wooster type straight from the Drones club in P.G. Wodehouse’s stories, but I also can’t help but hear him voiced by John Finnemore — am I alone in this? And to close out, a couple more of my favorite quotes:

“To her surprise Prunella found that she was still attached to Mrs. Daubeney. She would never trust her again — no! But one could nonetheless be very fond of someone in whom one had no confidence whatsoever.”

And a perfect response to a bit of misapprehension by Mrs. Daubeney:

“I beg you will recollect that Prunella has not a soul in the world to depend on, except for me?”

Her eyes welled up with tears. Zacharias looked at Prunella in desperation, but this display of sentiment did not seem to affect her one whit.

“You forget, ma’am, that I have myself,” she said. “Should you like the smelling salts?”

See you in the comments!

1 thought on “Book Club: “Sorcerer to the Crown”, microaggressions, and diaspora

  1. miir

    I recognized in Zacharias and Prunella a lot of the ways I’ve adapted to being in a foreign country, the defense mechanisms and camouflage one has to wear to not be seen as prey, to not invite attack. It’s interesting; I grew up in my motherland, so I did not have any lack of people who looked like me — so in that sense I don’t have that familiarity with Prunella’s reaction — but I recognize so much where “I have myself” comes from, when one is alone, without kin or kababayan, in a hostile place. And of course in Zacharias and the ways he’d adapted to living with his adoptive family I saw a lot of the mechanisms by which I kept myself sane and alive — one can only deal with so much cognitive dissonance and hostility to one’s identity before one has to repress it, after all, and learn not to see it. So much of their ways of dealing with aggressions both micro and major I recognize in myself: it’s necessity. It’s survival. That to me was such a huge theme of the book.

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