Featured Author: Zen Cho

May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, a month dedicated to honoring those with Asian or Pacific Island heritage and is observed in May to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants arriving in the US on May 7, 1843 as well as to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. For this month we’d like to celebrate Zen Cho, the Chinese-Malaysian author of books such as Sorcerer of the Crown, Black Water Sister and the upcoming novel The Friend Zone Experiment available in August 2024. 

Sorcerer to the Crown

Zen Cho writes with a delightful blend of historical fiction and fantasy and likes to describe the overarching themes of her work as “fluff for postcolonial book nerds.” Her books have won numerous awards, such as the Hugo and the 2016 British Fantasy Society Award for Best Newcomer. Born in Malaysia, Zen now lives in London with both locations frequently being the settings for her novels. While books like the Sorcerer to the Crown series are steeped in British history, others like Black Water Sisters or her short story collection Spirits Abroad are rooted in Malaysian folklore. It makes for an interesting blend and Zen Cho has discussed how the back and forth often helps inform upon the other.

Spirits Abroad

Zen Cho once described Sorcerer to the Crown in an interview as “Jane Austen with dragons and people of colour”--this is a main feature of the subgenre called “Mannerpunk” -we have a great Suggested Reading list for you–and spent a lot of time looking up archaic terms in the Oxford English Dictionary for her dialog. There she discovered the term “hagridden.” The definition of the word is to be “afflicted by nightmares or anxieties,” but the humorous image she had in her mind of an old, witchy woman riding on her back would become the inspiration for Black Water Sister featuring a young woman who’s ridden about by the ghost of her critical and cantankerous grandmother. It is a wonderful novel that explores Malaysian culture on topics around family, queerness and migration and is written in “Manglish”–an informal creole language that blends English and Malay–with footnotes to help explain cultural context.

Black Water Sister

What makes Zen Cho so fascinating is the wide variety of stories that all still manage to feel cohesive. There are stories of families, stories of martial arts battles in a coffee house (The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water) or even, as her publisher writes “ If you ever read Jane Austen and thought, ‘Great, but needs more spell-casting,’, [the Sorcerer to the Crown] series is for you.” So check out the works of Zen Cho and find the perfect book for you!

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water