Cover Image: Witchmark

Witchmark

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Member Reviews

There is a lot to recommend in this book, but at times, I felt the execution was a little lacking. It tells the story of Dr. Miles Singer, a mage hiding from his family and trying to solve the problems of the battle scarred soldiers populating his hospital.

The Positives: I thought the world building was really well done. C. L. Polk has created a great balance between the familiar and the magical, that worked very well. The magic system here is very interesting, as is the political hierarchy of the magical members of society. I also really liked Miles as a protagonist. He is loyal and honourable, both qualities to admire, and he always tries to do the right thing.

The Negatives: There were times when too much was left unexplained or when we weren't given enough detail. Consequently, some of the political machinations were a little confusing and I felt like this is one aspect that needed a lot more fleshing out. I also thought that the dialogue was a little clunky at times and that our antagonist was a little bit of a pantomime villain, with no real nuance.

Overall, I liked the world and will definitely be picking up the next book in the series, but there were certainly improvements that could have been made here.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.
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I am late to the party with this book, and I don’t know why! And speaking of things that I don’t know, I’m not sure how to review this book adequately. This book on the surface is a war story, a tale of magical powers, a political intrigue mystery, a murder case, a medical conundrum and a male/male romance. Oh, it is also a story of family obligations and the complications that come from doing what is best for the many at the cost of the few.

Is your head spinning from those descriptions? Then let me make it easy, read this book if even one of those aspects appeals to you. The main character, Miles is a doctor and his experience with his patients who are veterans returning from war as well as his own experience in war have led him to try to solve a mystery of what is inflicting the men returning home. You will learn about the complex world Miles lives in along the way as he interacts with his past and with new people as he tries to solve multiple possibly intertwined mysteries.

I look forward to the next book in this series and although it took me too long to get to it, I think NetGalley for an early copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
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I really enjoyed this book! It was a paranormal mystery with a m/m romance with high stakes and interesting characters. I definitely recommend this book!
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This was good without being great. I wanted more world building and more character development. Although the plot was interesting and fairly dark, the whole book felt oddly thin and light of tone. The resemblance of Polk's "Aeland" to real-world England of the Post-WWI period was undeniable to the point of being overly reliant, which made all of the fantastical bits and other made-up countries feel even more underdeveloped. Only the class distinctions and social mores felt real (apart from the general acceptance of homosexuality, up to a point). At some point I gave up hoping for more information to help me understand about the different cultures, different magics, different families, and just decided to go with the flow.

Miles, the main character, is a doctor and a former army surgeon. He's secretly a mage, too, for this world's value of that word. He's living a double life, hiding under an assumed name, because different levels of mage or witch are viewed as inferior to others, and used by those above them -- often family members -- as, basically, slavish magical batteries. Miles wants no part of that, so he's run away from his family. The plot of this book involves Miles' rediscovery by his sister and father, the mystery of why so many of Aeland's soldiers are suffering from a particularly violent, possibly magical form of PTSD, and Miles' sweet but contrived romance with Tristan Hunter, who is an "Amaranthine," which is this book's version of Fae, visiting from his world.

All of these things wind around in a larger theme of systemic oppression. These different threads are all interesting, but don't always feel organically connected, more just mashed against each other like blocks. The last 1/4 of the book moved a long at a good pace, which made up somewhat for the previous 3/4 being surprisingly slow. This is not all to say the writing is at all bad; but this is a first book and it really shows. I'm still interested in seeing more from this author.
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Me and this book got off to a bit of a rocky start but once we got going we really got along. A lot of my friends loved this book and I see why - it's a really cute fantasy with an m/m relationship at the centre and a really unique setting. 

Anyways, you know when you just don't have strong feelings about a book either way, like it's just a solid three star read? Yeah. We all know those are the hardest books to review, so this will be brief. 

Witchmark is a fantasy set in a world that feels like a blend of Edwardian England aesthetics, and World War One warfare. We follow Miles Singer, a witch who ran away from his family, joined the ongoing war, and then became a doctor who works with ex-soldiers who have developed a mysterious sickness only soldiers are getting. When Nick Elliott, one of his patients dies under mysterious circumstances, Miles, along with his new friend Tristan, have to solve the case. 

For me at least, Witchmark was a book with good concepts and ideas that failed a bit upon execution. The world was interesting and unique - it blended the historical and fantastical worlds well, and created a setting that felt so different to anything else I've read. The aesthetic of people biking around all the time, and the magical feel was really cute. But I felt the world overall wasn't explained that well, especially when it came to the magic. Miles pretty much - never, lets you in on the info he knows, and it made it hard to understand the world and lots of the plot. It's also why I struggled to get into this book at first. 

The plot moves pretty quickly, and the second half especially is fast. I liked the mystery element and the way the exploration of wealth, class and privilege as the plot unfolds. Although I did have trouble starting this, once it was going it was very enjoyable. The dynamics of oppression and control also play quite a big role in shaping the plot and world and again, I thought C.L Polk did a really good job at weaving the thematic issues throughout the plot. 

My favourite part was definitely the romance. Miles and Tristan were really cute and I loved their romantic scenes. Tristan is kind of *too perfect* and his character doesn't have heaps of complexity - but the two were cute and happy together so I decided to give it a pass. 

Overall this is a really cute book. I loved the romance and the way the themes are explored. It wasn't like an instant favourite for me, especially since it took me SO LONG to get into, but it's definitely sweet and I would recommend it for a historical fantasy with an m/m romance!
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This is a beautiful love story, with an engaging magic system and led by a political intrigue story. Just wonderful. I'm especially enamoured by it now that I know it's written by a Canadian who lives near me! I'm hoping that when I get my physical copy (as I read an eARC) that I can find a local event where it can be signed at! As always the highest compliment I can give any book is to purchase it for my physical library. Especially when I buy an ARC! This one is more than worthy of my shelf. 

Plot
There is a perfect political story in Witchmark. It has just the right amount of complexity and depth to allow for this story to feel light enough while still having depth. I'd call this a good 'fantasy beach read' if you like a mystery to be your relaxing genre. The parallels between the discrimination and fear our lead man feels and the plight of many escaping WWII cannot be ignored. It is done with a grace and balance that felt like it was still a fantasy story but giving homage to a very dark time in human history.
I can't say much more about the plot without giving anything away. So you'll just have to read it to find out! 

Characters
Our leading man is so well written. He has enough emotion to feel real, but still maintains a closed off feel that many men in modern society seem to have. As such I felt like he could easily have been many of the older men I know who have been through tough times. Unwilling to really share any of their trauma and trying to hide in the middle of their own success. His romantic entanglement with another man just emphasizes his discomfort and uncertainty of his own emotions; and is just adorable in so many ways! 
I especially love the attempt our leading man makes to stay low-key while still being successful enough to save lives at his hospital and advocate for the veterans program he supports. 
Additionally our other characters all feel like real people. A couple of them are clearly built off typical fantasy archetypes but that is okay with me as they have their purpose and aren't all that important to the overall story. 

Magic
One of the best parts of C.L. Polk's story is that the magical system is so interesting. It's easy to understand; while complex enough that it's difficult to know who has magic and who does not. I especially like moments in the book when our leading man starts to really 'see' the world in a certain way and the bond he starts to have with a fellow magic user. These moments are very special in their own and couldn't have been as great without a smart magical system to support them. 

Overall
If you don't read the last chapter, Witchmark could easily be a wonderful little stand-alone. And honestly I might have preferred that. As someone who is getting burnt out by long series I felt like Witchmark had a perfect premise to be a one-off. That said, I'll happily revisit our leading man and his tortured emotions in the future. Maybe that actually makes this an even better fantasy story in that it feels like a standalone (doesn't get too messy too fast) so that it reads easily and yet can still easily be built on for a series. 
Whatever the reason for it, I adored Polk's story and characters. It's just the icing on the cake that she lives near me and I may one day get to meet her! 

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
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This was tropey, but in the best way possible. It wasn't the most original plot ever, but C.L. Polk DID IT SO WELL. The worldbuilding was A+. The characters felt real and fleshed-out. And the themes of agency and the exploration of classism and privilege were done so well. Five stars!
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I loved this book! It had all the right elements for a magical fantasy adventure, but with the added bonus of having an LGBTQ+ main character. It was lovely to read a different type of MC. The romance was beautiful and the adventure was exciting. All in all, I really enjoyed this book and I would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction, fantasy, magic, and love.
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The first half of the book unfortunately didnt hold my attention so that when things did pick up I didnt feel the same pull because I had found the beginning to be so tedious
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What a wonderful read! So original and so disturbing. This book engaged me and kept me riveted. Not one turn of the page was predictable. I loved the magic system, even in it's corruption, because it was unique and visceral. Definitely add this author to you read pile.
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This book has been sitting on my kindle waiting for me to read it for quite some time. Now, my only wish is that I’d gotten to it sooner. Witchmark by C. L. Polk is an absolutely fantastic novel about magic, love, family, war, and the bonds between siblings.

Our narrator is Miles, a young man who ran away to medical school, was swept up in the war between Aeland and Laneer, and now practices psychology in a veteran’s hospital instead of the field surgery he started with. But when a fellow witch is poisoned and dies on Miles’ operating table he is drawn back into the world of magic he was once desperate to escape. His freedom is at risk, fate is closing in on him, and Miles is tasked with the poisoned man’s dying wish – to expose everything.

This is a murder mystery, a tale of magic, a story about the abuse of power, and a love story. Though it begins with many threads, all of the plot lines weave together seamlessly into an exciting, fast paced tale. All of the right notes are hit. The characters are wonderful, three-dimensional characters. The world is fleshed out. The magic system is unique. And I cannot recommend Witchmark enough. 

The story is set in Aeland, a country very similar to Edwardian England at the end of the First World War. These similarities are used to the book’s advantage. We generally understand the society and technology of the age, and little time is taken out for the sort of long descriptions and explanations that long time fantasy readers are used to. The real difference between our world and this imagined one is the prolific use of magic, even if it is frowned upon. Witches are common in Aeland, though they are said to inevitably go insane and are quickly locked away in asylums. Miles is a witch, one who has run from his family and the fate that awaited him … right into the middle of a war he’d rather do anything to forget. 

It is from Miles’s first person narration that the story is told. The majority of the story is told over the span of about a week. During this time, Miles is expected to turn out all of the patients in his ward to make way for the soldiers returning home from war regardless of their mental states. The poisoned man who died in his care, a fellow witch no less, entrusted Miles with his dying breath to expose the truth and finish his work. A task Miles must complete with the extraordinarily handsome Sir Tristan, with whom he is head over heels. 

The stakes are ever increasing on multiple fronts. The family Miles left long behind barge back into his life. The puzzle of the poisoned man takes dramatic, unforeseen turns. Tristan has an extremely important quest of his own. And Miles and Tristan’s mutual attraction isn’t something that can be ignored. This is the sort of book that can’t be put down. It’s fast paced with dramatic stakes for all involved with characters that are very easy to love (or hate). 

More than this, it is a story with a lot of heart. It is a story that talks about family, and how far a person is willing to go for them, even when the personal cost is great. It’s a story about sibling bonds, the things that test them, and the things that might break them. It’s a story about love and acceptance. Heartstrings are tugged, sometimes when it isn’t expected. 

Though the pacing is fast, it isn’t necessarily at breakneck speed. Sufficient time is given to explore the characters and their relationships with one another. The ending does ramp up in speed and tension, as most climaxes do, keeping readers on the edge of their seat. 

I cannot recommend reading Witchmark by C.L. Polk enough. This is an amazing story of magic, love, and mystery. It is the sort of book that has something in it for everyone. I adored this novel and cannot wait for the next book in The Kingston Cycle.
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Thoroughly enjoyable - i think I was most entranced by the voice - suppressing his 'gift' for so long - well, it is illegal - he is drawn in against his will - his powers as a doctor are enhanced but thisbrings other trouble.  His partner both knows and does not know. It's a sometimes gruesome but engaging story of coming to accept yourself. Really skilful ...
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Loveable, awesome characters.
A brilliantly conceived and realised magical system.
A paranormal murder mystery.
This book has everything my fantasy loving heart needed to get completely invested!
More please!
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Witchmark, by C. L. Polk (Tor) is one of the most unusual and compelling love stories I’ve read this year. The setting, very much like England in the throes of national PTSD following the First World War, a magic-yielding aristocracy, a conflicted hero, and so forth, are familiar enough to be recognizable, yet integrated into a freshly imagined world. 

A brutal war has dragged on to end in a draconian peace. Men returning from the front are all too often shattered in mind as well as body, although the effects of their trauma are poorly understood. In our own world, WW I veterans were said to suffer from “battle stress” or “shell shock,” and both were associated with cowardice or lack of moral strength. In this world, however, some of them carry a spiritual darkness within them, visible only to those with magical sight. One such is our hero, working as a physician under an assumed name to escape the enslavement of being a “second-class” magician. He alone makes a connection between the dark presence and the reports of his patients that a mysterious he wants them to murder their loved ones. Creating a metaphor for dissociation born out of guilt and trauma is one of the things I love about fantasy. In this case the darkness is also a real, separate thing, related to the retaliation plotted by the losing side in the war, but again, I found myself wondering at the parallels between Polk’s vengeful, decimated vanquished and the rise of the Nazi Party following the Treaty of Versailles. One of the hallmarks of thoughtful fantasy is how it invites us to look at our own world, our own lives, through new perspectives.

Witchmark, however, is not at all a diatribe about the root causes of war. It’s an intensely personal story of a man who, fleeing one sort of persecution (the exploitation of his magical talents), dedicates himself to healing and then, without meaning to, gets caught up in increasingly larger crises. Through this all, he forges a connection-of-the-heart with a man of another race, an Amaranthine, this world’s version of Fae. Like Fae, they are immortal or nearly so, and are said to be incapable to loving as humans do. All of this makes the slowly evolving love story between Miles Singer and Tristan Hunter both tender and bittersweet.

The book has a lot of different elements, from the murder mystery that launches the action to the politics of the hospital where Miles works, to the aristocratic magic-wielders who subjugate those of lesser talents, to the international politics, to the bicycles criss-crossing the city. It would all be too much in the hands of a less skillful author, but Polk introduces each aspect of the setting, characters, traditions, and drama in such an easy, natural fashion, they all fit effortlessly.
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Ok, I had heard about the book and thought it sounded interesting. Then *everyone* started talking about how awesome it was, and...I was hesitant. Is it *really* that good? Or is it just riding a wave and I'm going to read it and find that it just doesn't live up to my expectations based on everyone else's excitement? Short answer? I can see why everyone has been raving about it. 

Here we have a man who is believed dead by his family so he won't be enslaved to them. His magic is considered second-rate, a toy. Nothing worth mentioning - so people like him are bound to more powerful mages so they can use them sort of like a battery. Instead, he ran away and joined the war. Became a doctor, kept his head down - until a dying man saw him for what he really was. Then he has a choice - keep pretending and watching his patients murder their families and themselves? Or "come out" and have a chance to find out what was causing it and maybe even fix it? This book has it all - magic, war, murder, mystery, and romance - and all of it done well. Such a beautiful debut, and well worth the accolades.

(Already posted on Goodreads w/ a link on Twitter)
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Witchmark is a debut with a lot to offer fantasy readers who may be looking for any number of different elements in their next read. It's got a historically-inspired secondary world setting, in which we eventually come to learn of a complex magic system. The plot starts out, interestingly enough, as a murder mystery, then grows to encompass the unearthing of a much larger-scale conspiracy. And at its heart is a touching, sort-of-paranormal m/m romance.

The setting has a bit of an Edwardian England feel, with turn-of-the-20th-century technology fueled by new, modern aether-based power instead of electricity. Aeland is welcoming home victorious soldiers from a war abroad, and some of them are under the care of our protagonist, who calls himself Miles Singer, having fled a previous life and identity to become a military doctor. Miles is treating patients for troubling psychiatric symptoms, while also keeping the secret of his magical healing gift. In this world, members of the lower classes who are discovered to have magic are considered witches, and are institutionalized, since the common belief is that they all eventually and regrettably go mad. Amongst the upper class, however, it's a very different story, though the secret of the nobility's mages is kept from the public.

The story kicks off when a dying man, himself a witch, arrives at Miles's hospital with knowledge of his magical ability and true identity, claims to have been poisoned, and begs Miles to find his murderer. Another man, Tristan Hunter, sees it all, and persuades Miles to assist him in solving the mystery. Mr. Hunter is mysterious, gorgeous, and not at all what he appears to be, with a mission much broader in scope than just the one murder case. Together, he and Miles dive deep into a web of Aeland's intrigue, push the limits of Miles's magical understanding, and also develop a slow-burn romantic attachment.

There were some aspects of this story that appealed more to my personal reading tastes than others. I enjoyed that there were incredibly high stakes without needing to rely on action scenes to move the plot. I am less a fan of complex magic systems that require protagonists to spend a lot of time learning things about the workings magic, although I know there are many fantasy readers who would disagree. And then the paranormal/supernatural angle was a whole lot of other stuff on top of it all. I enjoyed both the mystery and romance plots a lot, but thought that it took way too long for Miles to realize the importance of what he and he alone could tell was ailing his psychiatric patients. To me it was obvious from the beginning.

I see that there is now a planned sequel to this book. I'm glad to hear it. Witchmark works as a standalone character arc, but it ends with a lot of uncertainty as to what's next for the nation of Aeland. And that's a lot of work put into a magic system for just one short book. I'm looking forward to the next one!
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When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued by the setting, and the worldbuilding was by far the most interesting part of this novel. Unfortunately I underestimated how important the romance was going to be to the plot. While I applaud the fact that queer love stories are gaining greater visibility in mainstream SciFi/Fantasy fiction, for me personally the romance between Miles and Tristan did not really feel believable and detracted from the overall story. But I am still interested in what further novels in this series may bring.
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Witchmark is a little bit of a lot of things -- a romance, a mystery, a family power struggle against a fantasy background, dealing with social upheaval and war... It feels like quite an odd mixture of things if I think about it from outside, but while I was reading it I had no quibbles.

Miles is the only character who I feel is really well fleshed out, and I really could use knowing more about Tristan before I can really fully buy into the romance and the Big Romantic Thing that happens near the end. Grace is... interesting, and surprisingly weak -- and I don't mean that in a disparaging way. It's just that she comes along and takes command and she's meant to be the strong one, and yet she's so led by her family and by adhering to the social customs. It's interesting as a character study, and I think there was a surprisingly good job done of making her likeable if only she wouldn't participate in what's expected of her.

Everything builds together pretty well for the finale, except maybe that romantic plot. I felt like we needed less of the magical attractiveness and more of the two talking to one another and figuring each other out: there wasn't enough to make me really root for them. It's the interplay between Grace and Miles that really made the story, for me.

I've kind of been avoiding getting this review written, because I wasn't wholly sure what to say. I wasn't as wowed as I hoped to be, but I think on reflection it was enjoyable and I'd read more. If I went in for half-stars, this would probably get another 0.5.
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Witchmark is a phenomenal book - enthralling, fast-paced and a plot that keeps you reading (long past when you should be asleep)
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I'm not quite sure how to best describe, or even talk about, Witchmark. It's a war novel focused on the home front. It's a mystery. It's a novel strongly focused on privilege. It has something revealed very late in the novel that I really want to talk about and in reference to another historical and famous science fiction story, but I can't because it would give away far too much of the novel and a capsule review isn't the place for that. It's a romance. It's queer. It's quietly fantastic in most sense of the word. There's magic and medicine, secret societies and secret identities. Witchmark is gentle only in the sense that there are distinct manners in the characterization and it's set in a quasi World War II era England where those manners and being proper matter (but in a completely different not at all England but still sort of England world). The rest of the novel is a continual kick in the gut laced with moments of grace and love. Witchmark is a lovely novel and an excellent debut from C.L. Polk
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