I didn't expect to enjoy Stormsong very much, because it follows a character who makes some terrible mistakes in the first book, who lacks backbone and allows herself to be manipulated, and as a result hurts someone she claims to love. Her actions are unforgivable, and I wasn't keen to spend the time with her -- but to my surprise, it worked very well. She's aware of her faults, aware of her responsibilities, and eager to do better.
As with the first book, the romance is incidental to the plot unfolding, which in this book is very political (with a slight touch of a murder mystery). It all deals with the fallout of the previous book, and as a result the love interest is slightly left out of much of it. She's a reporter, but mostly Grace feeds her what she wants to reveal rather than sharing the full story, so she doesn't get as strongly connected even as Tristan does to Miles in the first book. The romance is cute, but feels fairly superficial -- though with plenty of time, of course, to grow.
It was pleasing to get to see things more from Grace's point of view, so kudos to Polk for actually getting me to go along with that. I didn't think I would!
After several chapters I knew it would not appeal to my students and do not plan to purchase it. Thank you for the opportunity to read it for preview purposes.
I’m going to date the hell out of myself with this anecdote, but it can’t be helped. It comes as likely no surprise that my family can get a little ranty, my mother’s side anyway. Just to rely on some specious ethnic stereotype: Mum’s side is Welsh, who tend to be known for their voluminousness (and for their drinking, alas.) That was certainly true for the Welsh ancestor who emigrated to the States, likely because he’d knocked up the neighbor’s daughter. Late in his life, my grandfather would get calls to come pick up his grandfather at the bar where he was singing Welsh hymns at the top of his voice. As a consequence, Grandpa was a lifelong teetotaler.
Anyway, before I get too far down the rabbit hole of Depressing Tales of Victorian Drunks, let me get to my point. Grandpa had a tendency to go on about various topics, often to the great irritation of my mother and grandmother: they’d heard every single one of his disquisitions before. (Somewhat tragically, he wrote two volumes of memoirs filled with this stuff, and not one of us has read them. We heard it all when he was alive.) Mum took to calling them his “cassette tapes”: simply load up the tape, and let the bullshit flow.
I tell this story because I, myself, have a number of cassette tapes, rants I can just load up and spool out like a magnetic strip. One of them has to do with hereditary magical systems, and how they are inevitably racist, eugenicist, and gross as hell. So many writers just gloss over the inexorable disgusting consequences of having magic be something in the blood. I mean, that I’m using language like “in the blood” just illustrates how nasty this all is. This is the language of tiki-torched racists. It turns the divine right of kings into “good blood”, a semi-scientific justification for social injustice.
So I pretty much freaked when I read Witchmark, which addresses the nastiness of heritable magical systems straight on. (It’s also steampunky as hell and also seems to invoke the Crimean War, which always gets me hot and bothered, because it’s like WWI but way, way less legible and more about how incomprehensible war is.) The lead, Miles, was a member of a magical family, one of a discrete number who have been indefinitely detaining & using other magical people, forcing their children into political marriages, and using their surplus number as magical batteries. It seemed better to him to run off to an unwinnable war than live in the pampered yet obscene comforts of his family of origin.
So I was well excited to read Stormsong, C.L. Polk’s follow up to Witchmark. Stormsong follows Grace, Miles’s sister. She was the heir apparent, the one who would wield the power of both herself and her brother. She was instrumental in bringing the whole rotten system down, but the way it played out, not even a large minority of Aelanders know the particulars of how the magical system worked and its human cost. She’s still in government, trying to “change the system from within”, which is going about as well as one would expect. Which is to say: not well.
Stormsong ended up giving me serious Amberlough Dossier vibes, which I count as a very good thing. Lara Elana Donnelly’s trilogy (the latter two books anyway) deal with that indefinite period after the old regime falls but before the new one has entrenched. It deals with the people who, when the fit hit the shan, had motivations that were murky, conflicted, or self-serving. This is a tricky as hell period to write about successfully, which is why pretty much no one bothers to try. It’s so much easier to write the period where everyone knows, down to the reader, who is righteous and who is a godamn fascist.
Stormsong ended up feeling not as strong as its predecessor, but then, as my anecdote of the cassette tape illustrates, I do have my predilections. That said, I was completely able to start, middle, and finish reading this novel during the coronavirus times, something that I cannot say for much literature that has even slightly dark themes. Polk has this incredibly light touch with what can be unapproachably intense subjects. It’s not that she’s treating them lightly — not at all — but that she can slide them into a story with a conflicted prime minister and the girl reporter she can’t stop thinking about. I’m 100% there for Sapphic yearning, maybe especially because it’s the bait for deeper meaning. I’m decidedly on the hook for book 3.
Unfortunately this book was a DNF for me about 15% into it. There was something sluggish about the story that made me have difficulty with paying attention.
I wasn't able to read the book but I will be featuring it in a series called "I Wish I'd Read That." Text below:
I’m instantly drawn to anything Tor.com publishes. They’re always a step ahead with their novellas and novels, publishing the brilliant worlds and characters of new and well-established authors. C. L. Polk’s Witchmark was one of the first books I bought in preparation for launching this blog and I was so excited to read it that I continued to wait for a weekend I could fully devote to it. I’m embarrassed to say that weekend never came, and now I’ve missed two books in a series that I’m know I’ll love. I will most definitely be reading this full series in February when the third book comes out, but I felt the need to call it out as a book that should have been a favorite of mine this year. Expect to see reviews in February! Read more about the author and book below, or purchase a copy for yourself. And of course, a big thank you to Tor.com for the free review copy!
This is the second book of the Kingston cycle and I could not have asked for more. Revolution still brews, rogue mages, political secrets, and trying to recover from oppression to build again with characters who are relatable and awe inspiring. Wonderful sequel by Polk and I look forward to more.
I loved C. L. Polk’s Witchmark, to which this is a direct sequel, and I heartily advise readers to read that book first. In this world, both politics and the magic upon which the society depends are in an unprecedented and precarious imbalance. At the end of the first book, a series of shattering events have left the realm of Aeland in an even more desperate situation. The supernatural dangerous-elf-like Amaranthines are basically investigating their crimes to decide whether to exterminate them, and the weather workers are in disarray just as the equivalent of the storm of the century bears down on them. This time, the viewpoint character is Dame Grace Hensley, the privileged, magically gifted sister of Miles, our hero from Witchmark. She has much to atone for in her role in enslaving her brother’s will in order to steal his magic, but she’s had her eyes opened to the brutality of her own society. Which, when you come to think about it, is as interesting a place to begin a story as any. Grace’s awakening is not complete, of course. As an unreliable narrator, she still has blind spots aplenty. She has yet to discern the depth of her aristocratic privilege or the lengths to which her enemies will go to keep their grip on power. There’s a sweet lesbian love story, intricate political scheming, and genuine character growth.
Sequels are always tough, especially when the first volume is as good as Witchmark. Stormsong, while standing on its own less well, deepens the story. The shift in POV from what was previously essentially an adversary – and who now has a great deal to atone for – gives depth not only to the principal characters but to the world itself.
This sequel to the spectacular "Witchmark" is equally compelling and fast moving. The viewpoint character is Grace Hensley, sister of one of the main characters in the previous novel, and the story picks up shortly after its close. Dame Grace, Chancellor to the queen, is a storm singer, one of the powerful witches responsible for protecting her country against the severe weather that would tear it apart but for the efforts of herself and her linked circle of witches. But with both political and magical power, she is at the limits of her energies as she tries to reform a society that punishes the very people it needs to protect it against its deadly environment and is on the brink of revolt.. While not as strong as "Witchmark," "Stormsong" is a beautifully constructed and powerful fantasy novel. Bring on more, Ms Polk!
I enjoyed reading several aspects of this book! The pacing was wonderful, characters were well drawn, and the reading experience on the whole was delightful.
This is book 2 of Polk's debut series. I'm a little disappointed that Miles isn't our main character. Instead we get his sister. I really missed the banter between Miles and his partner in the first book. While our leading gal and her minor romantic interest (a woman) have a couple quip's; it just didn't feel the same (or as romantic) as Witchmark did. It is critical that you read book 1 (Witchmark) before you read this one. Stormsong continues the complex politics between nations, the discovery of souls/magic made in book 1, and the repercussions of war.
As stated above, the plot gets more complex the further into the Kingston Cycle Series we get. It worked fine for me, but I could see those who dislike highly politicized stories being unhappy about the focus. We have all our characters from book 1 plus some new ones; including our leading lady's semi-love interest.
Yes our leading lady's love interest is another woman. But if you're hoping for hot lesbian scenes, or even the cuteness we had between our two men in book 1, you're going to be disappointed. The entire side relationship felt very unnecessary. As though it was added in as an afterthought to the story. While the representation is good, and this is an 'own voices' series for Polk when it comes to sexuality; I'm just not sold on it feeling like add-on. Either develop the relationship a bit more, or just cut out anything above 'overtones of attractiveness' and flesh out the story later in series.
This is a great series. It has fun, excitement, intrigue, complexity, politics, and magic. What more could you ask for? As this is only Polk's sophomore release I am really looking forward, to not only more from this series but, other books from her. I think TOR has found a shining new voice who will help make fantasy characters less archetypal and feel more like people we might know today (just handling magical issues of their world). I look forward to seeing more of myself and other more modern representations in fantasy books.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Stormsong is the second book in the Kingston Cycle by C. L. Polk. Released 11th Feb 2020 by Macmillan on their Tor imprint, it's 344 pages and available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.
This is well written grand fantasy. The world building and magical components are engaging and enjoyable, but it's the corresponding applicability to the world we live in which gives it a poignant relevance. There is scathing political commentary along with the "forbidden magic" trope. The romance plot elements include a great deal of sighing and longing, but nothing explicit.
The technical aspects of the writing, characterization, and plotting are well executed; the author is a gifted storyteller. Fans of YA fantasy with a romance subplot will likely enjoy it a lot. I found it a diverting read, charming and escapist.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
An amazing queer historic fantasy. This sequel absolutely lives up to the love I felt for the first the first book in this series and leaves me highly anticipating Polk's next book.
Great follow-up to the excellent Witchmark. The themes of the books -- revealing the unspoken, coming to terms with privilege and status quo, reconcilitation and building new relationships and trust -- aren't easy, but the book is riveting, fast-moving, and emotionally devastating. I would have hoped for more development between the two characters in the f/f romance.
It's not very often that I love a second book in the series more than I loved the first one but, you know what, I think it's just happened.
In Witchmark, we had Miles and Tristan's story. I remember vividly feeling as though, regardless that the plot was strong and amazing, the romance between the two of them fell short.
There are storms coming. Huge ones, that could spell a great deal of trouble for the people of Aeland. At the same time, the witches who could help are being put away for life sentences in prison due to an outdated and incredibly hypocritical "Witches Protection Act". And, at the same time as that, Mile's sister Grace is trying desperately hard to stay in her father's incredibly big shoes after he has been incarcerated after the events of the last book.
Despite all of that going on, I felt as though the romance between Grace, and reporter Avia, and the plot were much more equally given their time and space.
Something that I found intriguing was just how relevant to current events in our world this alternate historical fantasy managed to be. While they had wild storms, we have severe climate changes. While they had the Witches Protection Act, we have various discriminatory laws across different countries saying who is and isn't allowed to exist and what areas they are allowed to be in.
It was just an incredibly insightful book and I can't wait to see what the author has coming from her sleeve next.
You can read all of my reviews at https://nerdgirllovesbooks.com/.
This is the second book in the Kingston Cycle series. I loved the first book, Witchmark, and was very excited when I was given the opportunity to read and review this one. (You can read my review for here: https://nerdgirllovesbooks.com/2018/0....
The first book focused on Miles who is a witch. He was fated to be enslaved by the interests of his family or committed to a witch asylum, so he faked his death, joined the army, and became a doctor. He was sent to war and came back greatly changed. During the first book, he eventually reconciled with his sister, Dame Grace Hensley. They worked together to end an atrocity her nation was perpetuating. This book begins shortly after the events of the first book.
This book is told from Grace's perspective, and focuses on her efforts to heal her nation and guide it through the disaster of losing power. It's winter and huge storms are on the horizon. Her father and a group of first mages are locked up, and the other mages are all jockeying for power. This, in addition to a hostile and prickly queen and her father's meddling, puts her position of authority on shaky grounds. Add to that Avia Jessup, a gorgeous, nosy and persistent reporter who is intent on getting to the bottom of the story of how the power went out, and Grace is barely keeping it all together.
This book is just as well-written as the first book and I enjoyed it, but I didn't like Grace's storyline as much as I liked Miles' in the first book. After how cold she was in the first book, it was hard to warm up to Grace and believe that she had changed so significantly. I liked Grace's interactions with Avia, however, and enjoyed reading how she resolved her struggle to keep Avia at a distance while being attracted to her.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I think the main reason why I didn't like it as much as the first book is because I really like Miles and his boyfriend and wanted to read more about them. They only play a small role in this book, which was disappointing to me. This is a very small irritant, however, and I still highly recommend you read this book. I am not sure if there are more books planned in this series or not. The ending is such that it could go either way. I hope there are more books, and if so, will definitely read them.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I must admit that I didn't love this as much as Witchmark. It was still enjoyable, mind you, but not as good IMO. The reasons being that it ended quite abruptly—with a lot still in the air (pending you don't simply assume everything will work out as planned, nothing else has)—and I didn't feel the romance AT ALL.
The problem with the romance was that though you know in advance who the romantic interest is (it's in the blurb), for half the book any affections she showed Grace felt like manipulation to get a story. I didn't believe for a moment a woman as astute as Grace would see all the touching and soft words as anything else, given their limited acquaintance and the circumstances. What's more, when later Grace makes decisions, stating they are to be with Jess, it feels like a leap. She wants to be like Jess, her brother, and Tristan. She likes who she is with them. But that's not the same as being in love with someone, especially since it's not limited to one person. So, I didn't make the connection to love, be it romantic or otherwise. All of which left me pretty cold on the romance front. I liked them both, but I didn't feel a romance bloomed between them.
All in all, however, I'd be happy to read more in there series (if there is any) and certainly more of Polk's writing.
Taking place literally two weeks after the absolutely stunning conclusion of Witchmark, Stormsong pops into the head of Grace, Miles’ really annoying and completely indoctrinated into the system of systematic magical prejudice—and, coincidentally, the Voice interim.
Grace was by far my least favorite character in Witchmark, mostly because she accurately ticked off every single Rich, Passingly Progressive White Woman Trope that ever walked the planet, and how despite having her nose rubbed into her prejudices she never really…got it. Not even at the end, when she helped Miles destroy everything. It was more save my brother than oh shit this is really bad this needs to be dismantled pronto.
So stepping into her POV wasn’t exactly something I wanted to do. But, I loved, loved, loved Witchmark, so into this book I went.
This isn’t a bad book—I gave it four stars for a reason that wasn’t purely sentimental—but it wasn’t as polished as Witchmark.
Grace is operating at the highest levels of society, and is forced to navigate both her actions in the literal undoing of the slavery that kept her country together (mild spoiler: Aeland’s prosperity is built upon the enslavement of witches) and keeping her people safe from an onslaught of politics and blizzards.
So the basic premise is…How do you solve an impossible problem when you are deeply complicit in its existence?
Grace’s eyes are (slowly) opened to the real horrors of the lower classes and the frustrations of her peers, as she has been isolated and inculcated into Aeland’s system for her entire life.
She is the perfect product of the system of prejudice and class structure.
And she’s finally realized that, wow, that might not be a good thing.
So anywho, Grace goes through the entire book trying to do what is right while lacking the tools to listen, act and correct. In addition to dismantling the system that has kept Aeland running for centuries, she also has to dismantle the hellscape of her own preconceptions.
Luckily, journalist and former-socialite Ava Jessup is there to open her eyes, and the two have a bit of chemistry throughout.
Plus there’s a plot of the Amaranthines (the elf-people Tristan belongs to) coming into Aeland to pass judgement upon Aeland’s many transgressions (of which invading a peaceful country for its resources and enslaving its own people are just the tip of the iceburg), to a plot to overthrow the obstinate queen in place of her impetuous son, to a mutiny among the outer rings of mages who are now in charge because their mommies and daddies are locked up to…everything else.
Anywho, while I related to Grace a lot (she was isolated from her peers by her father, who groomed her to take over his position but neglected to give her the opportunity to actually…cultivate working relationships with her age mates), I was frustrated by her total naivety.
This is a woman who was groomed from birth to assume the highest ranks of political and magical power, and while she’s very good at the technical details, she flounders at all social aspects and fails to really see what is happening outside her ivory tower. Yes, there’s a lot of growth and breaking down of mental barriers, but it was still hard to read, mainly because I wanted it to go faster.
And because it takes a lot of learning to realize that true healing takes time, it takes attentive consideration, and deep-rooted issues cannot be changed by throwing money at it (*side-eyeing Grace of Witchmark*). And within that learning and dismantling of ingrained prejudice is a lot of backsliding, because when the entire system around you stymies your growth, it’s hard to grow.
And also because I did not want the book to end like it did.
In a Sopranos-like twist, it ends mid-scene, with so much that needs to be resolved and wrapped up. It needed another solid 100 pages to finish fully, and instead it ended with the romance at the high point, where the romance had been taking a quiet seat at the back of the bus for most of the book (okay, there were quite a few times where Grace threw herself into precarious positions to protect Ava by using her political and societal wealth, but still).
So Stormsong is a solid 4.5 stars, docked .5 for its ending.
I need more!
I received an ARC of Stormsong from NetGalley for an honest review.
A gorgeous follow-up to Polk's Witchmark that expands our view of the world, Stormsong was incredibly satisfying, and worth the wait. I loved how Polk gave readers a different perspective on the same world when she shifted from Miles as narrator to his sister Grace. Miles brought the perspective of someone who had rejected aristocracy, but Grace is still part of the aristocracy, and trying to change it from within.
One of the reasons that I loved Witchmark was that it was smart and attentive about political power -- and so I think that Polk is making exactly the right choice in trying to show us how people in different positions of power see it differently. And the main plot helps to push our awareness of how power works (and doesn't work!) in different ways.
The only thing that I wish had been more developed was Grace's relationship with Avia Jessup -- not because it wasn't compelling, but just because we didn't see nearly as much of it as I would have liked, and I wanted more! But I will eagerly await the final book in what I understand to be a trilogy.
Wait…where’s the rest??
Stormsong is the sequel to Witchmark and follows Miles’ younger sister, Dame Fiona Grace Hensley. Her father and the rest of the First Ring of storm-singers are imprisoned in the Tower of Sighs while the Blessed Ones, Amarinthines, are trying to learn the truth of aether and the war against Laneer. There is a lot of political machinations at work, and reporter Avia Jessup is quick with her camera to catch the byline and reveal the truth of the Hundred Familes.
Stormsong picks up right after the ending of Witchmark and was just as engaging and intriguing. I love the world of Kingston and Grace is a truly interesting character between her quick mind and the personal growth she is going through. She’s always been happy to satisfy her father and fulfill his dreams for her, but after reconnecting with Miles and seeing him making his own choices, his own path, she starts to truly question her father and his motives. In some ways this is slow going for Grace but she makes the decision to try to be her own woman and be who she sees she could be when around Miles, Tristan, and especially Avia.
I really loved the romance and hope there will be more from Grace or Avia’s perspective, especially because so many changes are in motion! The world is changing, and Grace is many ways a catalyst to the upcoming changes. Kingston is on a precipice and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see how things are going to play out!
I read that the author decided that since Miles had been badly injured and needed time to heal, she decided to make his sister Grace the POV character of this book. I didn't care much for Grace in the first book and disliked her even more in this one. Maybe by the end of the book she improved, but more than halfway in I was annoyed enough that I decided to skim.
Grace is placed in a prominent political position in this book and has the problems to go with it. First, without secretly imprisoned witches being used to control the weather, the weather is... out of control. Next, the political problem of exactly how to deal with these freed witches- people are going to be upset about their loved ones being imprisoned! Next, the main power source-aether- is now defunct, what with the witches being freed and all, and people are cold, afraid and upset because they don't understand what's going on. Also, there's an Amarathine delegation which has arrived to sit in judgement of Aeland and they are NOT happy. And then there's the Laneeri delegation that had planned to cause riots and mass murder in Aeland, now under arrest. So much to do!
And Grace doesn't have much idea how to handle any of it. She's got no allies other than her badly injured brother Miles, whom she promptly presses into service because he can speak Laneeri and she needs information from the prisoners. There's one strike against her. Second strike- although Grace has been raised to be a political creature, she somehow has managed to grow up without any allies among the aristocratic witches that she is nominally in charge of, and she's in a position of weakness there. Third strike- Grace is one of the most disingenuous characters I've ever read. No sooner does she think "I'll never dragoon my hurt brother into helping interrogate prisoners AFTER HE WAS A PRISONER OF WAR HIMSELF" then she's wheedling and hinting around that she could really use some help, oh what should she do; in Mile's room. Grace isn't honest with herself, much less anyone else, what her goals are and what she will do to achieve them.
Also, she starts a romance with Avia, the reporter from the first book. Avia makes her first appearance in this book basically being a papparazza and taking pictures of the Amaranthines without their permission, knowing she'll probably piss them off. Grace sees Avia as a braver version of herself, since Avia was an aristocrat who was kicked out of her family. Avia sees Grace as all she has lost. I wasn't really convinced by their feelings for each other.
So, there are a lot of problems to unravel and frankly I felt like Grace was not equal to it, didn't even see half of what was going on in front of her. Maybe by the end of the book it got better? But halfway through the book I couldn't agree with any of her decisions and I quit.