Witchmark

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She gave no outward sign of her effort, but her Secondary’s knees sagged as she took as much of his strenght as she pleased. I shuddered. That would have been me, if I hadn’t escaped. Nothing but a Storm-Singer’s minion, my own gifts dismissed as useless.
I turned my face away when the Storm-Singer and her lackey returned to the car. THey drove out of sight as clouds billowed overhead, huge and dark with water. Droplets landed on the upturned cheeks of the onlookers. The little girl in my arms stopped sobbing as a raindrop splattered on her forehead, and she scrambled out of my arms crying, “Rain! Rain!”
Soon the nightgowns of the evacuated neighbors stuck translucently to their skin. They praised the rain as a miracle, hugging each other in relief. It was a miracle, for them. They had no idea that the wealthy woman in shiny beads and fur had saved their homes with magic.

-Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review. In no way did this affect my review or my rating of the novel.

Witchmark is a fantasy novel about Miles, a young man who has run away from his wealthy family to avoid his expected role as Secondary – a magical slave to his sister, who will inherit their father’s position as Voice upon his death. To escape the magical binding that happens to Secondaries, Miles runs away to join the army, and is sucked into a horrific war with the Laneer that leaves soldiers mentally scarred with battle fatigue, coming home to slaughter their own families. Home from war, Miles dedicates his career to work as a psychologist at the veteran’s hospital, trying to find a cause for his patients’ illness before more lives are lost.

There were so many wonderful things about Witchmark, but most come down to the stellar world building done by the author. The novel is set in a fictional world that feels similar to post-WWI England, but there is a whole culture developed in Witchmark with bike riding. There is language for the movements of the bike swarms as they move throughout the city, and complicated cultural standards for behavior inside one of these bicycle “drifts” – how to move in and out, how to switch from one side to the other, how to turn, etc. The magic in the world was equally detailed – there are different types of magic that different characters have, and certain expectations based on indivual wealth. Among the wealthy, the mages that can bend the weather are “Storm-Singers”, and the mages that can’t are only referred to as “Secondaries” – and while the author makes it clear that there is little difference between these two, the character still does not realize this until it is pointed out to him by another character. The author just did so much with language and details while still making the world feel realistic and understandable, and that really contributed to the realism of Witchmark.

It’s pretty rare for me to talk about pacing unless there is something wrong with it, but the pacing on Witchmark felt so perfect for this book. The author did a fantastic job of keeping things moving quickly without rushing through the character-building moments. I am not a person with a whole lot of time to sit down and read (most of my reading is done via audiobooks, or squeezing reading into 15-20 minute spurts throughout my day) but I devoured this novel in about 3 days because I couldn’t wait to find out what happened. That does say a lot for the world building and the plot, but moreso for the pacing, because when a book slows too much I am less likely to jump in as soon as I find the time.

The characters in Witchmark were quite well done as well. Much of the novel depends on the reader being suspicious of most of the characters, so that did make it hard to relate to some of the secondary characters, but Miles and Tristan were complex characters with developed back stories who interacted with each other in realistic ways. Even Grace, who the author holds at arm’s length for most of the novel, still was sympathetic and well-developed, and if nothing else is a strong female character with a goal and a mind of her own.

In all, I will give Witchmark a 9 out of 10. There is so much to love – the setting, the plot, the characters – with a good fast pacing that held my attention until the very end. Fantasy readers will love this book, and readers who are interested in trying fantasy should like it too.

 

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