Author website: https://clpolk.com/
Witchmark is described on the website as, “[A]n original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War,” the latter of which I think is kind of inaccurate. Using “World War” implies a much larger scale of war than what was described in the book. It sounded more like a local colonization war. Or, more likely, a resource-grab war with your neighbor.
So, Edwardian fantasy, mostly original world, some positive reviews, and magic is involved. I was a bit interested. Hadn’t read anything from a new author in a while, and gave it a shot.
The book is $15.99 and comes in trade paperback form, about 300 pages, and fairly large print. Larger than a standard paperback font. It’s not a difficult read, but I wouldn’t say it’s read too quickly either. I didn’t have to stop and think or try to picture how anything worked, nor were any systems difficult to picture. It was a light read and didn’t weigh on my mind. Sometimes, that’s what I want.
The reader is introduced to Miles Singer, a psychiatric doctor, war veteran, and secret witch, is working in a hospital and worrying about where to place incoming patients returning from the war. There’s not enough beds and too few patients he is willing to discharge. What’s worse is news: several instances of returned veterans are killing those close to them and not remembering why. And Miles can see something cloudy over his disturbed patients.
Miles can’t talk about how he knows which patients can be released and why he doesn’t release some seemingly healthy patients because being a (poor) witch is illegal. The wealthy, influential witch families hide their powers from the general public, and the greatest power and influence goes to the strongest Stormsinger that can sing the storms away from Aeland. Anyone who isn’t a Stormsinger is a Secondary, deemed weak and unimportant, and to be used as batteries to power the Stormsinger. And while Secondaries are superficially from important families, they are subservient to their Stormsinger and used as marriage pawns.
Miles, unwilling to become a thrall, left his family and tries to remain separate, but can’t as this story progresses.
The story is vaguely charming in that the world is neatly laid out and a bit interesting while not being too different from Edwardian times, and Miles is a sympathetic character.
But it still felt superficial, even when the book delved a bit more into how things work and the machinations of hidden groups that, as always, involved the usual major cravings: money, status, power. No depth beyond wanting to maintain status quo, and not very interesting status quo either,
There were more things that bothered me. The reader sees a lot of Secondaries in the book, and most of them are female. There’s one other male Secondary mentioned. If there are female Stormsingers and it seems like men and women are mostly on the same level as one another (there are female and male doctors), why are so many of the seen Secondaries female?
And if being a witch leads to persecution and there’s noble and peasant-class witches, how can there not be more peasant-class witches who know about each other? The peasant class out breeds the noble class by sheer numbers, and I’m more than a little surprised that there isn’t a better network for the lower-classed witches that have been popping up for generations.
Also, how do interactions with other countries work? Do Aelanders know that other countries have witches? It’s not random; it’s bred in. And if one country has it, other countries must. How do Aelanders interact with them? Are the borders shut tight? Is there any trade of any sort, or do they only do takeovers?
It wasn’t original, but it was enjoyable. It’s like this: you have a vague inkling of a few directions it will go, and it does go that way. Not surprising, but you’re pleased it happened and you’ll take it.
I don’t think I’d recommend this as a purchase to anyone I know, but I’d offer to lend them my copy or suggest it as a library read. It’s too light to be devoured with a passion, but still wants to be deeper and thus not silly/campy/punchy in a way that I would enjoy in a different manner.
It’s the first in a series, and the second will be available in mid-2019. I felt that the ending of this book was pretty solid so I don’t know if I’m looking forward to another book, but I’ll probably read it.
Purchased: July 28, 2018
Finished: August 12, 2018