Here is another from the Nebula finalist list, WITCHMARK by C.L. Polk. This novel brought a lot of things to mind, Sherlock Holmes, WWI period dramas, and not shockingly, BROADCHURCH.
Set in a secondary world that will remind many readers of pre-WWI England, noble families use their innate magical power to control their countries, down to the weather. One young man, a veteran who survived one war, re-invents himself to escape the oppressive influence of his family. Miles, who was rendered unique on the day of his birth, wanted out from the two paths that laid before him, either becoming a puppet of his family or committed to a witches’ institution.
By going to war and causing his family to think he is dead, he is able to escape everything and instead follow his calling in becoming a doctor at a veterans’ hospital. Even here though, Miles cannot hide who he truly is and when a patient exposes Miles’ talents and witchmark, he will be tested in risking everything he has built. He will be forced to trust a family, whose intentions are cloudy at best and a strange man, who may have stolen his heart.
Polk’s writing is foremost, lovely. The prose is rich in images and textual sensations, while each chapter successfully sets up the next one, which is great for not letting me set this one down. The plot is both murder mystery, quest, and light romance all at once, which is a testament to Polk’s genre melding talents. The world building is fun, if not a little too close to how England was during this time period, but the details that flesh out this magical world help differentiate it enough, that you don’t feel that influence as strong throughout the story.
The story is at it’s core quite endearing, because Miles is above all really lovable and as one reads along, you can’t help but pull for him. Enter Mr. Hunter who plays upon Miles’ initial attraction and you have a small romance subplot thrown into the mix, which is kind of refreshing, since it complicates a rather straight forward(ironic, I know) murder mystery. The banter between the two men is also rather fun, so that’s an added bonus.
Actually, all the dialogue in WITCHMARK is excellent and never once stilted or forced. The cast of characters is broad and contains just about every sort of person you expect to find in this story of world, with few staying within a certain stereotype. This all makes for a really enjoyable reading experience no matter your preference and I hope others find this debut novel from Polk. No matter if you enjoy romance, mysteries, or historical fantasy, there’s something for everyone.
The sequel, STORMSONG, is being released this summer.