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The True Queen:
Sorcerer to the Crown #2
by Zen Cho
Ace Books; 367pp; $15
Published: March 2019

This is the second novel in Cho’s series set in an alternate Regency England where magic helps King and Country, and the Unseen Realm is just a spell away.

But first off, on a dark and stormy night on the island of Janda Baik, in the Straits of Malacca, two sisters wake up on the beach. They have no idea how they got there or who they are. They make their way to the village of Mak Gengang, a very powerful witch who takes them in. They are named Sakti and Muna and Mak Gengang cares for them and teaches them magic. The island is known for its powerful witches.

Meanwhile, in London, Lady Prunella the Sorcerer Royal is going ahead with her plans to establish a school of thaumaturgy to educate and guide young women, who hitherto have not received any training, their magical abilities shunned. Only males may control magic in England.

On Janda Baik, the two sisters realize one day that Sakti must be cursed, because she is beginning to fade away. The only place they know that has magic that might be stronger than Mak Gengang’s is England, so off they go, via magic (to shorten the very lengthy normal journey) to see the Sorcerer Royal. They take a shortcut through the Unseen Realm (Land of a very cranky and touchy Queen, fairies, elves, all sorts of mythical creatures) in hopes England might provide some answers to reversing Sakti’s curse.

Only, Sakti disappears on their journey and Muna finds herself alone in London at Prunella’s school. Though received with kindness and curiosity, a bereft Muna realizes she really has a problem, beyond her missing sister. Not only must she fit into English society with all its strictures and etiquette, she isn’t the one with any real magic; Sakti was the one with all the ability. Muna is afraid she’ll be shunned and seen as a fraud, thus unable to get the help she needs to rescue her sister. Muna decides she will just do what she can, after all, she is an exemplar of foreign magic, so what would the English really know of her abilities.

Muna’s adventures in England really open her eyes up to the world at large and especially the convoluted magics, snobbery and hierarchy of English mages. But she remains focused through all the strangeness on rescuing Sakti. There are tangles with dragons, talking paintings, and a polong in a bottle that Mak Gengang sent along to help Muna, as well as an intense search for the missing Virtu, a powerful amulet of the Fairy Queen. This amulet gives the Queen the right and power to rule the Unseen Realm.

At last, through all the struggles with the Fairy Queen, her minions and power-hungry English thaumaturgists, Muna finally finds her sister. And the reunion between the two changes everything.

Cho creates distinctive characters and puts them in gorgeously described situations filled with quirkiness. A clever and enchanting read. ~~ Sue Martin

For other titles by Zen Cho click here

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