C. L. Polk
Witchmark Cover



What a delightful book! A story which I couldn't put down and which pulled at my heart strings with the sweetest romance.

I guess Witchmark could be described as a magical alternate historical fiction fantasy novel. The kind of book that requires the a -punk suffix of some kind. The setting is in a country called Aeland which feels curiously like Edwardian England which is just beginning to use electricity widely (except in this case it is called aether).

It is a setting where magic exists. There are witches (considered bad) and mages (considered good) and we quickly learn that although there is a monarchy that rules, executive power lies within a set of 100 families known as the Invisibles. These families are mages and their power is hereditary, and similar to the Lords class system in the United Kingdom they form an aristocracy that is both the government and a dictatorship.

I will try my very best to avoid spoilers here as to the nature of magic users in the book, but we essentially have a 'whodunnit' murder mystery linked to political machinations and the implications of war, combined with family estrangement and bonding.

The central character Miles Slinger is a psychiatric doctor working with returning veterans who mostly appear to be suffering from some kind of post traumatic stress disorder which build to murderous psychotic episodes. We quicky learn much more about Miles, and his family and reasons for how he joined the war and came to be a doctor (I really am trying my best not to spoil anything). The book centres around him, his relationship with an enigmatic stranger and his sister.

The setting seems so very twee and quaint. I love the descriptions of people joining cycle lanes and also the descriptions of friendly landladies, shop boys and other notable characters. There are a few female characters who were portrayed in such a way I imagined them more as a femme fatale from a noir film (and I mean this as a compliment), and then the next minute we are faced with simpering violets who would be better off in a Regency period piece (again, a compliment).

The stars of the show though are Miles and Mr Tristan Hunter and their blossoming romance. Oh my, I felt I fell in love with both of them. It's been such a long time since I have been pulled along in a book willing the two characters to get together, and whilst it's signposted early I appreciated it never felt rushed. If you remember being infatuated for the first time, this book will remind you of that. I adored it, and really wanted to kiss them both.

I've mentioned MIles' sister, and to be honest her character annoyed me. I think it's intentional, we never quite know if she is one of the world's good guys or out for herself. Polk gives us plenty to reflect on. It's not that Grace is especially complex but every time you think you can trust her she does something stupid that makes you think again. Even at the end I am still not 100% of her true motivations. I can't decide whether my dislike of her adds to the book or detracts. I guess I was so invested in Miles and Tristan that I saw anything that got in the way as something to boo!

I've talked about how twee this is. At times the book demands we stop for tea and crumpets and yet the pacing is never off. And despite the adorable setting and characters there are occasions where the threat is ramped up, where there is a sinister and malevolent encounter to respond to. There was one scene in the book where I was so shocked and wanted to scream 'NO!'. It was nice to have my buttons pushed like that.

There are underlying themes of class privilege, hierarchy, war and the senseless waste of life, and also the dominant class determining who is expendable.

I guess at times towards the end the plot feels a bit rushed and I was a little disappointed at the end, because the book ends but it may as well scream, 'if you want to know what happens read the second book to come'. I do think I have way to many series to finish but I think I will add Witchmark to the list!

Really enjoyed this one