Witchmark (Witchmark #1) by C.L. Polk

Posted On 28 June 2018

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What an unusual and lovely little baggage this book is.  An Edwardian style world, set in a time of war with steampunk elements.  This book includes a murder mystery that eventually reveals a much deeper plot, there’s a romance woven in along the way and in a world where magic exists you know there are going to be more surprises.  I really enjoyed this, it was intriguing, it addresses issues of privilege and power and the plot is much more in depth than I first anticipated.

The story is told by Miles.  Miles is a doctor working in a veteran’s hospital, he specialises in treating soldiers suffering from mental illness. Miles is in hiding, the hospital he works in struggles for funding being from a poorer part of the city but this suits him as he’s trying to stay below the radar of the upper echelons.  Miles ran away from home a number of years ago in order to avoid a life of servitude and he’s managed to stay in hiding ever since.  However, his luck is running out.  As the story commences Miles treats a patient who has been poisoned.  The patient dies but not before extracting a promise from Miles to hunt for the murderer.  And so the mystery begins.

The world here is an unusual place with lots of interesting concepts but in particular the magic.  For the most part the unwashed masses seem to remain unaware of the use of magic although there are witches among them and when they’re discovered they’re usually whisked away from society and incarcerated in asylums.  However, it seems that there is a powerful cabal of mages, rich and privileged people who can wield strong magic, particularly to control the climate.  These mages remain a secret from the general populace, meeting in private.  Miles was born to such a family but having a lesser ability (healing magic) means that he would have been bonded to his sister (a powerful mage) in order to contribute to her ability and secure the family position.  Basically, witches are treated as inferior and used as little more than batteries to supplement a mage’s power or breeding machines to strengthen the noble families magical ability.

In terms of the characters we have Miles.  He makes the acquaintance of Hunter and, for different reasons, the two investigate the circumstances behind the poisoning.  Hunter is a character straight out of legend -I can’t tell you anything more without giving away spoilers though.  Miles is a likeable character and a good narrator although he seems to have such a lot going on that he makes me dizzy, in fact I think he rushes into things like a headless chicken sometimes but, still very likeable, just – take a breath Miles for goodness sake. We learn quite a lot about Miles and his past as the story unfolds and he feels well rounded.  The rest of the characters are not quite as well developed and feel a little thinner somehow.  As I mentioned I can’t really discuss Hunter but he becomes the love interest of the story, not being overly fond of romances on the whole I can say this is a subtle part of the story, very well written and it doesn’t overwhelm the plot at all – although there is an element of instalove given the timeframe involved here.  Miles sister Grace – well, she annoyed me more often than not but I do think that she eventually came good – and, again, I can’t really go into too much detail about her other than to say her intentions were well meant but she was maybe a little naive.

In terms of criticisms.  I think there was a slight feeling of being rushed along somehow, the romantic element was very quick and the plot progressed at a fairly rapid pace – which isn’t really a bad thing and not something that spoiled the read for me.  However, it did leave a few things lacking, for example why Aeland and Laneer are at war.  In fairness this is a fairly short novel and there’s only so much that you can fit in, especially with a plot of this depth – frankly I wouldn’t have been averse to the page number being increased to provide a bit more detail. but I can understand the desire to keep this a bit more punchy.  There’s a fine balance between too much information and too little and I believe that the next book will focus on Grace so perhaps more detail will be forthcoming from her perspective.  The father is something of a tyrant and Grace is very ambitious – to such an extent that it’s sometimes difficult to understand why Miles still cares for her – and yet, at the same time she hopes to use her position of power to help witches such as Miles – so swings and roundabouts really and like I mentioned, I hope to find out more about her motivations in the next book.


Regardless of a few little niggles this was a highly readable story with an almost softly spoken demeanour (by which I mean this isn’t grimdark or violently brutal).  It concludes well and I would have absolutely no hesitation in reading the next instalment.  This story hooked me virtually immediately, the pacing was really good and it tackles some big issues such as exploitation, lifestyles and consequences without resorting to a preachy tone.  It has a lovely period feel to it with the inclusion of some surprisingly modern touches and has a style that I simply enjoyed reading.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.




20 Responses to “Witchmark (Witchmark #1) by C.L. Polk”

  1. Susy's Cozy World

    This one seems quite interesting (and it has a really nice cover!), I think I will check it out! 🙂

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    An unusual core concept and what I consider a huge bonus: the discussion of serious issues in a deceptively offhand manner. This novel possesses all the elements to be a good one for me. Thanks!

  3. Tammy

    Awesome review, I really want to read this! I love me a nice, quiet magical story now and then😊

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s quite a lovely book, I love the feel of it.
      Lynn 😀

  4. sjhigbee

    A great review, Lynn – I enjoy charming books and love that cover. I’ve added this one to my wishlist:)

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think charming is a good word for this one. It’s a lovely little book.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Sounds lovely! Too bad about the parts that felt rushed, especially the romantic element. That is one of my biggest pet peeves!

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yep, it’s a very quick romance – the duration of the story is only a few days and both characters fall in love – so, very quick indeed. It’s still a really lovely story and I was able to put that issue to one side. I felt like I should mention it though.
      Lynn 😀

  6. waytoofantasy

    Great review, glad you enjoyed this one.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Very easy to read, a few niggles but nothing that distracted me overly.
      Lynn 😀

  7. bkfrgr

    Oooo, this sounds really good! I’ve seen the cover on a couple of people’s weekly catch up posts and thought it looked a bit meh, but it sounds great (romance notwithstanding) – it’s going on the list! Thank you!! 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s a very quick and easy read and it really took me by surprise. I had a few niggles here and there and I’m not overly enthusiastic about instantaneous love but I can’t deny that this was entertaining.
      Lynn 😀

  8. bkfrgr

    Yeah, I struggle with romance, instantaneous or otherwise, I’ve not got a romantic bone in my body! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Haha – me too. But, every now and again, and providing it doesn’t become the centre of everything – I dislike nothing more than picking up a story, described as fantasy, then to find it’s a romance with a little light fantasy sprinkled in to lure me in! NOOOOOOOOooooooo
      Lynn 😀

  9. bkfrgr

    Oh wow, yeah! Being mis-sold a romance is downright evil! 😀

    • @lynnsbooks

      I wasn’t quite expecting the romance element although it didn’t put me off the read.
      Lynn 😀

  10. Can’t Wait Wednesday : Stormsong (The Kingston Cycle #2) by C.L. Polk | Books and travelling with Lynn

    […] spinning an enthralling world in Witchmark, praised as a “can’t-miss debut” by Booklist, and as “thoroughly charming […]

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