Book Review: Witchmark (The Kingston Cycle #1) by C.L. Polk

Witchmark C.L. Polk

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): 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.

There’s a lot of hype surrounding this book, and it’s no wonder, having been nominated for the Nebula, Locus, and Lambda Literary Award.  Having been nominated for all these awards may have been a detriment to the book in the end.  I was expecting a lot.  Something like my reaction to The Wolf in the Whale.

I’ll be honest and say that I read most of this in one day, so it certainly started on a good note.  When I finished the book, I initially rated it 4 stars, but upon reflection felt like I should lower the rating.  It had an enchanting and cozy feel to it.  It feels like historical fantasy, but it’s technically a secondary world that feels a lot like London (though Kingston makes me think of Jamaica which would have been awesome).

The world building all seems very solid on the surface.  There are rules.  It’s not a free-for-all.  There’s structure and status.  However, by the time I reached the end, I was questioning how coherent and consistent those rules really were.

Some minor world-building spoilers ahead:  The super wealthy elite are all mages from powerful families, meanwhile, witches are persecuted.  I’m confused about a few things in this regard: A) Do the non-magical people know that the wealthy elite are mages? B) If they do know, why persecute witches and not mages? and C) If they don’t know- am I expected to believe that the mages are just immune to witch trials due to their class status?.  Either B or C is fine and acceptable, but it was never really explained and I felt like it was integral enough to the plot that it needed to be explained.  I kept reading thinking the author would get around to explaining it, but as I neared the end I understood she was expecting me to take it at face-value, which I didn’t appreciate.

Another issue I have is the conflicted messaging.  There are themes in this book pertaining to slavery, and the more I reflect the more issues I have with it.  I just don’t think the overall message was clear.  We know where Miles stands on the issue, but one of the antagonists in the book isn’t clearly an antagonist (she feels more like an annoyance), and their stance on the issue is very murky.  They say they want to help, but they have extremely misguided ideas on how they should help.  It just made me feel a little icky inside.

The romance was sweet, but definitely not as major a factor as I had expected. I enjoyed it, but wished there was more.  Additionally, the ending was super abrupt and a lot of the end scenes confused me.  One minute I thought we were in one setting, the next I was in a different place.  I had to reread a few times to see where the scene transition was and still couldn’t find it.  It could have used just a few more pages.

But overall, the entertainment value is always the most important factor for me, and it delivered in that regard. I found it hard to put down, and the writing was decent.  Polk did a good job of keeping me in suspense regarding the murder mystery and some of the strange happenings around Kingston.  There are pretty high stakes.  I’m currently undecided about whether I’ll continue with the series or not.

Witchmark can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.