I was pleasantly surprised by how much I found to like about Witchmark. I was a little worried that it was going to be more romantic and sweet than I generally go in for, but – while it was very wholesome – there was a lot of emotional depth and some hard-hitting tropes that I adore. Read on for more!
Witchmark is kind of hard to pin down: it’s part fantasy, part murder mystery, part romance, and part historical drama (despite being set in a world that never actually existed – it’s very Edwardian-esque). Our main character is Miles Singer, a magically-gifted doctor working working at a war veterans hospital. Dr. Singer is a veteran himself, but he’s also living under a false identify as a fugitive from his own family. Right away we are thrown into the action alongside Miles as a handsome bystander brings a dying man into the hospital. The dying man claims to have been poisoned and asks Miles to solve his murder just moments before he passes away, leaving his soul and magical powers in Miles’ care. Miles and Tristan, the handsome bystander, work together to solve the mystery while Miles is simultaneously fighting to maintain his job as a psychiatrist treating soldiers who have been traumatized in the war and to stay as far away from his estranged family as possible. There are struggles on a large and small scale throughout the book. We learn of grand national conspiracies and class warfare, and we also see the very human and individual struggles of Miles as he works with his patients and fights for his own freedom.
Queer Content (minor spoilers start here)
The romance definitely takes a backseat here in favor of plot and world building, which I tend to like. I really enjoyed that Miles’ sexual orientation is something that he’s comfortable and familiar with, and isn’t really a plot point at all. It’s just an aspect of his character, which is so great! Right off the bat Miles is attracted to Tristan, but he seems like the kind of person who doesn’t get too overwhelmed by physical attraction. It never gets in the way of their working relationship. This story is really about Miles, not Tristan and not their relationship. It’s a first-person narrative that stick to Miles’ POV and tells his story. Everyone else is along for the ride. Even so, I liked Tristan and his affection for Miles. He’s supportive without being an overbearing hero type. Throughout the story there was a lot of doubt cast on Tristan’s ability to actually feel love for Miles (or any human, given that he’s some type of angel or something) but I never actually felt any worry that Tristan wasn’t genuine. Maybe that would be my only complaint: there could have been a little more ambiguity around Tristan’s true feelings. It would have made the happy ending even more exciting and revelatory That said, I enjoyed this very quiet, not-intrusive romantic side plot a whole bunch.
I was delighted by the quantity and quality of good angst in this book! I was expecting something sweet, light, and easy-reading, and while it does venture into that territory throughout a lot of the story there were some great soul-crushing moments scattered throughout.
This book had some excellent whump and angst, especially of the emotional variety. The confrontation between Miles and his father was my favorite scene of the entire book. Being forced to beg for your own enslavement is deliciously cruel. I also really enjoyed seeing how the secondaries were treated in general: they are all basically enslaved to whichever Storm-Singer binds them, their rights are drastically reduced (Miles mentions that if a Storm-Singer were to hit him, he would have no right to hit back), and they can be married off without consent. I would have liked seeing more about how Secondaries are treated, but I really appreciated the glimpses that we did get. We also got broken bones, bicycle crashes, fainting, and weakness due to magical draining. All good whumpy stuff.
Overall, Witchmark kept me hooked with the well-woven plot threads, the clever world building, and the emotional range. I really loved the whole concept of Storm-Singers and their magical-battery slaves. And I loved that the author allowed a lot of room for moral ambiguity. Grace, Miles’ sister, is a Storm-Singer with questionable motives but she isn’t a one-dimensional evil villain. Miles himself was an absolutely delightful character that I really enjoyed spending time with. I have heard that there is a sequel coming, but I was left totally satisfied by the ending of Witchmark and think it stands very well on its own. For readability, angst, queer content, and overall satisfaction in one tasty package I’m giving this 5/5 stars.
2 thoughts on “Witchmark by C.L. Polk”
Ooooh queer magic content! I’ll put it on my tbr 🙂
Yeah, when I heard queer magical psychiatrist with a post-WWI aesthetic I was all in. How could anyone resist?! Definitely let me know what you think of it!