Witchmark – C.L. Polk
C. L. Polk arrives on the scene with Witchmark, a stunning, addictive fantasy that combines intrigue, magic, betrayal, and romance.
In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.
Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.
When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.
Such a gorgeous cover! Why can’t MM books have covers this classy?
I have been waiting for this book since last year. Reviews say it reads like a fanfiction, albeit a really good one. I agree but a fanfiction of what, I couldn’t guess.
Witchmark introduces us to Dr. Miles Singer, a psychiatrist trying to heal soldiers with PTSD in a veteran’s hospital. This was a time when psychiatry was not yet taken seriously. Miles is also hiding the fact that he is a witch. He covertly uses his healing powers to help the soldiers. He is also keeping a low-profile because he is hiding his true identity.
Tristan Hunter is a mysterious individual with magical powers. He taught Miles how to control his powers. He and Miles conducts an investigation on the death of Nick Elliot who was Miles’ patient. Nick Elliot died shortly after claiming he was murdered. He was also a witch and a journalist.
Miles and Tristan’s romance started with insta-attraction but it also burned slow. I like the friendship that blossomed alongside the low-key romance and although that proposal in the end seemed to come out of nowhere, I’m glad Tristan is not disappearing from Miles’ life anytime soon.
Dame Grace Hensley is Miles’ sister. She is aiming for the position of Voice among the circle of mages. She needs Miles help to boost her candidacy but she promised not to enslave her brother. When she first made an appearance, I was kind of annoyed with her meddling but she redeemed herself in the end.
The world-building is vivid and palpable. Aeland is a nice world to live in if you don’t count the war with Laneer and the fate of witches. It is ruled by Queen Constantina and there are individuals called the Invisibles who have magic powers.
Aeland runs on aether which I guess is like electricity. There are cars and telephones though only the well-off could afford them. There are also trains but many have bicycles. I could imagine myself riding my bicycle on my way to work in this fascinating alternate Edwardian world. It is really my dream to ride my bicycle to work but it is highly impractical in this blazing tropical heat where you arrive at your office badly in need of a shower if you don’t get hit by a car first (no bicycle lanes here).
In this world there are witches and there are mages. It is implied that there is a difference between the two but until now I don’t know why they are different. It was not explained explicitly. However, witches are usually taken to asylums located in remote regions of the country and were never heard from again. The only people who are considered important are the Storm-singers who maintain the pleasant weather of the country. The rest of the magic welders were treated as second class hence the literal name, Secondary. In this kind of scenario, class conflicts and power struggles come into the picture. The book did a good job showing the kind of struggle Miles had to go through to maintain his freedom when he was discovered by his sister to be alive.
The magic system could use some fleshing out. I am the type who likes going through the rules and imagining myself applying the principles of a certain magic system. The author kept it vague and general. As Tristan was teaching Miles how to control his powers it would have been nice if there were more explanations but they took the more intuitive approach, which means, they just wing it.
The ending left me hanging. Shortly after the liberation, Miles woke to find himself under the care of Tristan’s friend. An imminent war is threatening to erupt and it all depends on Miles. Tristan reveals his new ties to Miles and then poof! It ended just like that. I guess we need that second book.
I could say Witchmark was worth the wait. The story was well-written, the characters were well-developed and likable, the mystery was intriguing but overall, the book didn’t quite hit the 5 star mark like I expected it to. Maybe it was the fact that I wasn’t really surprised about anything. There were some well-used tropes and I expected something grander but while it fell short, it did deliver enough goods for me to enjoy myself. The book also didn’t resort to cheap tricks like exaggerate the lust-levels or insert unnecessary sex scenes just to spice things up. In fact, the book has zero steam which makes it my ideal MM book.
4 Stars – minor quibbles but I loved it to bits