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C. L. Polk arrives on the scene with Witchmark, a stunning, addictive fantasy that combines intrigue, magic, betrayal, and romance.

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

318 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 19, 2018

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C.L. Polk

15 books1,254 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,305 reviews
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.4k followers
June 30, 2022
You know when you read a really good romance, or your nostalgic favorite childhood series, and yes, you know that there might be a few tropes, but you are just so invested in everything within the story, and you want to praise it forever and send it to all your friends? That’s how I feel about this book. This has all the good qualities of really good romance [well-used tropes, story beats we can sense but still aren’t bored by, interesting and likable characters] and then all the good qualities of a good fantasy novel [great worldbuilding, compelling thematic journey] and then all the good qualities of a murder mystery [murder! intrigue! maybe family being evil? we'll just have to see!] and it is so so lovely.

Witchmark is sort of steampunk-fantasy murder-mystery with paranormal romance vibes set in a world inspired by WWI Britain, following a witch disguising himself as a doctor to avoid being essentially enslaved by his sister, Grace.

So first of all, the worldbuilding of this book is completely excellent. The inspiration for this book is super palpable and clear and it works very well. I don't tend to get that into worldbuilding, but this world is just imaginative enough and just obscure enough to feel enthralling.

→plot & pacing←
I mean, see what I said above about tropes used well; the plot isn't necessarily the most original thing ever, but it has some good moments. This murder mystery, especially, is super interesting. This book is full of twists and cool reveals and interesting points. And also… I kind of devoured this? Aside from the first hundred pages, I binged the entire thing in a night, and I was so addicted.

I really liked both Tristan & Miles as characters. Miles especially has a lot of inner depth, and his conflict over his family is really well-done and lovely, and also I talked about him more below, and he means a lot to me. And then there’s the romance between Miles & Tristan. And… so listen, this romance does have a bit of instalove going on. But their dynamic is so lovely and full of care and I am so into it.

So first of all, I would die for the way agency is tackled in this book. Miles is absolutely driven by his need for agency, for independence, for release from being under the boot of his family. And even when he’s offered freedom within that role, he doesn’t want it because he knows that freedom would be conditional. He knows it could be taken away at any moment. It's also a very good exploration of class privilege. I really love discussions of agency and I think this book really did a great job playing with it. I also love everything my blogger friend Acqua mentioned here.

I was confused at first about why another book is coming [I want more but this wrapped up so well!!] and it turns out it’s focusing on Grace, a character I liked but was not obsessed with. But I'm still super super excited.

But basically, I would die for this book. I would die for the Super Important Agency Focus and I would die for the plot twists and I would definitely die for Tristan and Miles. This is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and I would totally add it to your list of 2018 releases, because it is not to be missed.

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Profile Image for carol..
1,532 reviews7,856 followers
October 7, 2018
It's quite, so very, very twee.

The good stuff: it is very charming. There's a sweet romance. There are men bicycling. There are feisty ladies. And I wasn't inclined to either fall asleep or throw the book once.

The background: There's a very Edwardian England feel about it, all waistcoats, dressing for dinner, carriages, and well-bred women chaperoned when with the opposite sex.  The story surrounds a man who has essentially escaped his family to live under an assumed name as a doctor. His family had wanted him to be a human battery for his sister's powerful Storm magic, and his escape included enlisting in the ongoing war with another country.

"Small courses came one after another, calling for salad forks, a fish knife, red and white wineglasses. I fell into the smiling countenance I'd learned as a young man, but Grace was smooth as a still pond. My tempestuous sister had grown into a woman who steered a conversation where it pleased her, and it pleased her to bless Beauregard Veterans' with her approval and our family's money. Would it please her to leave me where I was, doing what good I could for the world?"

The other stuff: The least grumpy and most real of my complaints surround pacing: there was almost no suspense for the majority of this story. I enjoyed reading when I had time, but once I set it down (duty calls, after all), there would be no drive to pick it back up. I had a feeling all along I knew were it would end, so I didn't feel particularly moved to continue. In fact, I started and finished an Agatha Christie during the same time frame.

Plot surrounds the emotionally disengaged mystery of the poisoned man, presented in the first chapter; the appearance of Tristan, also in chapter one; the vague mystery of the clouds above soldier's heads, again, first chapter. Progress on these things is incremental. It is literally at 59% when a major plot point happens that suddenly catapults the story into actual action. The ending includes a (mild spoiler) (which was expected), an explanation to a mystery that our incurious, milquetoast doctor didn't know existed (and therefore the reader doesn't, although I had my suspicions via Tristan). We also get the answers to all the earlier questions, which turns out to have huge implications that we didn't really understand, because no one explained this semi-magical nation to us. These mysteries all wrap in the last 50 pages, which is rather unforgivable considering how huge they are. It is also unbelievably out of tone with the with the rest of the novel. It's like looking at a room full of Monet haystacks for three hours, and turning the corner into a Francisco Goya retrospective. Mental whiplash.

I'll also throw out there that Doctor Miles Singer (aka Sir Christopher Miles Hensley) is absolutely the most clueless doctor in the history of doctor detecting. Although he's apparently been a psychiatrist for thirteen years, he's just absolutely baffled by these mysterious clouds above some of the returning soldiers' heads and he can't seem to make a connection between that and their illness. Initially, I put all of this down to world-building, ie., me not yet understanding some complexity Polk had yet to relay. But since he partially solves the problem on an individual level halfway through the book, then that excuse didn't work. Also, he and his friend Tristan literally take days to discover the grocer that delivered food to a murdered man and work out how he might have been poisoned. Is this useful? Not particularly. But, yay for answers?

I eye-rolled a tad at the Prince-In-Disguise-Perfect-Man set-up, but since we're talking twee, and since it's super-sweet instead of dopey, I'll allow it. Yes, Tristan is perfect. Yes, it's insta-love. Be aware.

What does all this result in? Honestly, for a first novel, it's well done. Not on par with Hounded, by Kevin Hearne, but better than Jim Butcher's first Dresden novel. Maybe along the lines of Greta Helsing in Strange Practice. Probably part of the problem is me and genre incompatibility, with the medical mystery/doctor-with-a-secret being my main draw. Had Miles been, I don't know, an accountant, solving the mystery of where missing funds were, or a legal secretary, or some such, I probably would have successfully avoided it.

There was a short time where I was particularly intrigued, wondering if we were going to actually explore post-traumatic stress disorder--which I wondered if Miles had, being so determined to stay non-confrontational--but really, Polk's treatment of it was nothing more than surface level at best, and that was negated by the ultimate conclusion.

So, your mileage may vary. If you like twee, insta-love and doctors riding around on bicycles in tweed coats with problematic relationships with their sisters, this may work for you. I like my fiction a little edgier, and the bits inserted into the end definitely didn't count.
Profile Image for Riley.
427 reviews21.1k followers
July 24, 2018
historical ✓
magical ✓
gay ✓✓✓
murder mystery ✓

I adored this. it wasn't anything like what I expected
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,962 followers
November 22, 2018
I honestly did not know what to expect with this except that a ton of people I know swore by it. So sure, I barely looked at the blurb and dove right in, basically clueless.

What I found was a mystery soon after a world war, featuring a hounded mage serving as a doctor in England. Cool. And yet, for me, the charm was in the strong voice, the genuine sympathy, and the wonderful details of the time and place.

Of course, there's a lot of really horrible situations going on here, like being bound magically to a Mage's will, becoming a battery to someone else's magic. The Doctor went to war to escape that fate and became a doctor... but the world pulled him back into the old horrible intrigue.

And then the love story happens. And let me say this... I was charmed to death. :) Yes, it's LGBT, but I have to admit it's just charming as hell. :) The meet-cute fit perfectly with love at first sight but in this case, it's hard to tell whether the Fae is charming the magician or vice-versa. :)

The rest of the novel had a freaking awesome plot, too.

I think I'm going to be following this author for everything she does. I am totally trusting her. I did not expect to like this or any of the subject half as much as I actually did.

It just goes to prove: Good is Good. No matter what. :)
Profile Image for Rachel  L.
1,826 reviews2,187 followers
June 1, 2022
4.5 stars!

In a fantasy version of Edwardian England, Miles Singer works as a doctor veteran’s hospital, hiding his magic while trying to heal his patients. When a murdered patient exposes his healing gift, Miles must work with a handsome stranger to find out who murdered this man and why.

I had a hard time getting into this book at first, but after the first fifty pages this book flies. I loved falling into the worldbuilding and the mystery, CL Polk truly created a magical world. The characters were all great, if not developed as much as I like in my books. But that’s made up in the plot and pacing and again, the world building. This book is a commentary on slavery, independence, choice and freewill, and class privilege. I could see this book play out in my head like a tv series and I really hope it becomes one someday.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,456 reviews8,555 followers
August 14, 2018
2.5 stars

Wanted to love this one but struggled to connect to its writing and characters. I most enjoyed the elements of class conflict and family strife. C.L. Polk writes about class privilege and servitude well, and the tension between our main character, Miles, and his family helped imbue Witchmark with surprise, intrigue, and betrayal. However, as other reviewers have said, the book reads like fanfiction at times, where the characters and world-building receive little development and the writing contains several tropes. I wanted the characters to feel more distinct and nuanced in their personalities - so extending beyond Miles's altruism and Tristan's perfection. The romance felt predictable too. Parts of this book show potential, like some of the underlying themes and the author's imaginative magic system, so I have hope for more in future works.
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
904 reviews274 followers
February 7, 2019
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.

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!

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.

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.

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!

To read this and more of my reviews visit my blog at Epic Reading

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews189 followers
February 24, 2020
Witchmark is a novel I find very difficult to sum up, because it's one of the few books which are many different things at the same time - a sweet m/m romance, a paranormal, a murder mystery, an exploration of class privilege, a novel about the consequences of war - and manage to develop all those aspects.

I have to say that the first few chapters weren't exactly easy to get into. I was a bit confused by the world at first, I didn't understand what aether was supposed to be or what was the difference between mages and witches, but everything had a point, and the rest of the book was totally worth my initial confusion. The worldbuilding was wonderful. We have a city with vaguely steampunk technology (=great aesthetic), a lot of carriages and bicycles, and we have magical people hiding their magic in their everyday life - the main character is an army doctor - and even Amaranthines, beings I can only describe as the mix between an angel and a faery, and it doesn't even feel weird.
(I love weird, but I also loved how these aspects didn't clash with each other at all.)

I loved the romance. If you look at it as a paranormal romance, Witchmark is somewhat tropey, but I didn't care - most paranormal romances aren't a m/m story between a witch and a angel-like faery, and very few of them are as well-written as this one. It's a cute, tropey romance done well, the kind where you really want the characters to end up together, and you feel for them, and the fact that you totally know how the story is going to end doesn't detract anything from your enjoyment of the journey.
This isn't true only for the romance, but also for the murder mystery aspect: there are many reveals and I guessed almost all of them, but it wasn't a problem for me. It's a gay magical murder mystery, and I loved every moment of it even if I knew what was going to happen.

Also, "cute" and "tropey" don't mean "lacking in depth", because another thing I loved about Witchmark were the themes. It's told from the point of view of an army doctor who is now working with veterans who have delusions and PTSD - and this book looks at the way the people in power don't even try to help those who won the war for them and made them richer. And, once one gets to know the truth about the magic system, Witchmark becomes also an exploration of class privilege: magic in this book is a lot like crime, which means you can get away with it (and profit from it!) only if you're rich. And is technological progress worth the exploitation of less privileged people?
There's also a focus on the importance of agency: Miles ran away from his family, who only saw him as a tool, someone who only had to be useful to his sister, who has the right power - a storm-singer instead of a healer like Miles. But if Miles will help his sister, it will be his own decision. There's some very interesting commentary on what are basically prisons masquerading as asylums as well: prisons are a form of comfortably hidden slavery, just with more plausible deniability.

The character themselves were well-rounded. I usually prefer selfish narrators because I find them more interesting, but it was refreshing to read about someone who wasn't and still felt very real. I really liked Miles as a protagonist and his romantic relationship with Hunter. Miles' relationship with his family is more complicated and often toxic, and he has conflicting feelings about his sister; I liked how the situation developed.
The next book will be in Grace's PoV and I can't wait to see what will happen to her.
Profile Image for Emma.
2,433 reviews828 followers
May 7, 2022
I spent the first half of this book wondering whether I particularly liked it and by the end I loved it! Great magic system, complex main characters, exciting denouement. Fabulous!
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books695 followers
June 18, 2019
This could have been amazing. It had so many great elements--I see why so many found it cool. But it needed to slow the eff down! We jumped around constantly from plot point to plot point, revelation to conflict in a scene with no time to orient or attach to anything. A shame, because I think there was a lot here that I would have fallen in love with if it had been built a little more.

CONTENT WARNING (no actual spoilers, just a list of topics):

The cool things:

-The premise. There's so much tension and pressure in this world from all sides, it's a great place to watch things fall apart.

-The romance. Our MC has adorable twitterpation every time he's around the love interest. Very Colin Firth. I never like the romance, but I thought their flirtation was adorable.

-The visuals. All of the things we have described are really neat and exciting to think about.

Things that I stumbled over:

-Inconsistency. There were several things we were told or explained that either didn't happen, happened contrary to the earlier explanation, or were just mis-remembered by the author and not caught in editing.

-Characters. I didn't know any of them. None were fleshed out enough that I got a sense of their mettle, aside from the MC who vacillated from broken to fierce so often I couldn't keep up with his emotional state.

-Magic. It was very handwavy, which I would have been fine with except that part of the story is the MC learning how to use his magic, and the explanation of how that came about was also very handwavy. I know, magic is irritating to write because by definition it breaks natural laws, but if you're going to try to explain it, it better stand up to scrutiny.

-Pacing. We were all over the place. It started out as a mystery with a ramp up and we just kept adding components. This means it moved very quickly, but there was no anticipation. This is a zipline, not a roller coaster. To create tension, the author sacrificed story beats, which means we got the adrenaline rush, but not the emotional investment.

-Inorganic plot progression. Related to the pacing, to keep things "exciting" there isn't flow to the story. Things just keep happening. No one figures anything out, there are no catalysts except that "it's time" in the story. There's a lot of quantum leaps in reasoning, a lot of bad guys popping out of shadows and the like which starts sawing away at my suspension of disbelief.

-Writing. Lots of redundancies, backtracks, telling but not showing (except for the romance) and I think the part that stood out most is the times that the tone would break. This is a gas lamp fantasy that uses pseudo-Victorian modes of address, and every now and then we'd fall spectacularly out of that era into the modern. Again, it's fantasy, we can do whatever we want with it, but if 80% of a book is one time period and 20% is another, it's a bit abrasive.

In short, where the F*** was the editor? This is a great story, and they published a draft. Someone tell her this needed to be one plot line less complicated, about 10,000 words longer and smooth out the bumps. This would have been stellar with a bit more time investment. I don't know that I intend to continue--the interesting things were all undone in this book and the plot was fully satisfied, so aside from the romance, I'm not sure what would compel me to continue on. I have recommended it to folks who like neat worlds and sweet LGBTQIA moments, which this has aplenty.

Profile Image for Elizabeth.
Author 59 books6,704 followers
January 24, 2018
An amazing book; an extraordinary first book.

Enthralling, fast-paced, and romantic, Witchmark unveils a fascinating world. Polk writes with assured ease. I can't wait for her next book!
Profile Image for Kaley.
148 reviews56 followers
May 31, 2018
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from my place of employment.

2.5? Maybe?

My main problem with this is that it reads like fan fiction (I'm saying this as someone who has read more 100k+ fics than I could possibly count). When you start reading a fic, you already know who the characters are, so the author only has to give minimal development of their personalities and motivations, as well as the world they live in, because it's assumed that you already know. I feel like that's what happened with this book.

Miles is the only character who feels mostly fleshed out, and even that is questionable at times. Tristan is almost a nonentity - he's very pretty and very attractive, and and...that's it.

Grace is kind of the same, which makes me sad, because I saw reviews about brother/sister relationships and was really excited for that part of the story. But all she really does is annoy Miles and you know, I hope that she has the opportunity to take a better role in the next book(s).

I also really want to know more about how the whole system of...governance, or whatever you want to call it, works. It's referenced so casually throughout the book, but I think its seeming complexity warrants a much more in-depth explanation, considering how important it is to Miles and his family's story, and ultimately, Aeland, Laneer, and . Like, we got such an informative explanation of how bike drafts work, but not what's up with the Invisibles and the Royal Knights and whatnot.

So: less dialogue and descriptions of food and clothing; more exposition; stronger interactions between the characters - this would have made a huge difference.

All that being said, I did feel compelled to finish the book in the end, which says something. By the last 100 pages or so, I didn't want to put the book down until I found out what happened, dammit.

I think the system of magic is interesting and (to my knowledge, anyway) unique, so I'd like to read more about it. In general, this sort of Edwardian/WWI-era setting is one of my favorites, plus magic? I always want to see more in this genre!

The main bit of the plot - the mystery surrounding Nick Elliott's death and the overarching war with Laneer - was fascinating, and I wish that it had been more of the focus (rather than meandering down paths about Miles's family and his inexplicable romance quite so often). The magical PTSD/shell-shock parallel was fantastically done. And the asylums and the class warfare they imply? Yes please, tell me more.

And even though I wasn't convinced by this particular romance, I am overjoyed to read an LGBT book that just...lets it happen. It's a feature, not the genre, the way romance is in most other books. We need more of this. LGBT fantasy should be a big thing, okay. In real books, not just fan fiction. (I just realized if you include fan fiction, that is quite possibility my second most-read genre.)
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books430 followers
February 7, 2022
“An Amaranthine never forgets the ones they loved.”

So What’s It About?

Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.

When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.

What I Thought

This is a book with a lovely premise, but sadly I don’t feel that it ever quite lived up to how good it could have been. What it comes down to, I think, is that there is just so much going on in this little book and none of it is really done due diligence. There are bits of commentary on war and mental health and trauma in veterans, class exploitation and privilege and family conflict as well as a mystery and a love story and it rather feels like everything gets a cursory touch instead of the deep dive that it merits.

A good example is the fact that Miles is a veteran who was a prisoner of war forced to repeatedly heal torture victims so that they could be tortured again. This is what we in the psych biz would call moral injury and it frequently accompanies PTSD in veterans. So it’s really cool that Polk includes it here...except it’s mentioned maybe three times at the most and Miles only displays any feelings about this or symptoms (perhaps besides his dedication to his patients) on a few occasions as well.

This problem extends to the world-building too, which I found to be dissatisfyingly vague. There are some really cool ideas like the magic based on souls, the faelike Amaranthine in their own world, the necromancy and the magical oppression but it all needs to be defined much more clearly. I don’t really know what it means to Sing, or what it’s truly like to be a Secondary - Miles discusses it being akin to slavery, and then Grace says that Secondaries are only required to work eight nights a year? And some of them are being selectively bred but that’s mentioned once and never again? There’s some element of division between witches and mages but people know about the witches but not the mages? The Amaranthine are first mentioned in the conversation when it is revealed that Tristan is one?? I don’t know, I just really wanted to know more about everything and it feels a little flimsy as presented in text.

The romance also moves incredibly quickly and I found it to be fairly bland overall. Miles and Tristan are talking about marriage by the end of the book and making professions of love when I felt like they basically just meet up a few times to talk about the mystery that they are trying to solve. The most complex character in the story is probably Miles’ sister Grace, but she betrays him twice - first by binding him as a Secondary and then by telling their father that they’re going to the asylum - and Miles seems to have very muted emotional reactions to both of these events and she seems to just get away with everything horrible she does.
Profile Image for Para (wanderer).
359 reviews194 followers
February 5, 2020
Witchmark ended up being the book that finally got me out of my March reading slump. It's a charming, easy read, that hit precisely the right spot.

The plot is one third murder mystery, one third romance, and one third historical fantasy, which makes for a lovely mix. In a world where lower-class witches are persecuted and shut into asylums or enslaved, Miles only wants to lie low, be free, and work as a doctor in a run-down veterans' hospital...until a mysterious stranger brings in a dying patient who knows who and what he is. Then, of course, things get complicated.

First things first: I loved Miles. He reminded me a bit of Cazaril from The Curse of Chalion and I'm a sucker for this type of character - people healing from their past experiences who remain compassionate and nevertheless try to do their best. The second thing I'm a sucker for are stories that contain some aspect of healing and here it's important both in the thematic sense (healing from war) and in the sense of Miles' magic being essential to the plot. The romantic subplot is adorable, slow-burn, and unobtrusive. I'm still fairly new to romance, there's a boatload of tropes that irritate me, but this was fine.

The setting is a very rough analogue of post-WWI England - a bit more advanced than most fantasy books. There are bicycles galore (even a bicycle chase scene!) and the beginnings of magic electricity. I found the change refreshing. And while it's inspired by our world, it isn't the same except renamed at all.

The only thing that brought down this book for me is the protagonist's sister, Grace. She's manipulative, hypocritical, treats Miles horribly, and does absolutely reprehensible things using excuses that it's for the greater good of her brother and their country. He doesn't really rebel much either, but I think that's more a result of trauma and not too unrealistic. Still, she's infuriating. I never wished a character would go die in a fire as much. Even though she comes around a bit by the end and they're up against things worse than even her, I find what she was doing for most of the book is completely irredeemable.

Enjoyment: 4/5
Execution: 4.5/5

Recommended to: fans of historical fantasy, mysteries or m/m romance, those looking for healer characters and unusual settings, anyone who needs a slump-breaker
Not recommended to: those who don't like it when horrible characters get away with a lot, content warning: abuse

More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
Profile Image for Susan.
351 reviews20 followers
February 19, 2022
I think the only reason this exists is because Tor was looking to push themselves as a diverse SFF publisher, and nary anyone sent in some LGBT+ fantasy except Ms Polk lmao. (edit: I've since learned that Polk was in the set of writers who were prominent on LJ in the mid-aughts, helmed by the dread RaceFail-era Elizabeth Bear, so - give a cheer for industry connections!)

It’s a very thin, straightforward book, and I thought it might be otherwise because of the reviews and the promotion and the promise of the setting and premise. Seriously, the promotion. Tor put in a LOT of money to make people think this was good.

I’ve read better worldbuilding, characterization and romance in self-published and indie-published queer fantasy books (hellooooooo The Shattered Gates). Seriously, this book needed about 100 more pages of padding throughout to explain, I don’t know… the system of government, the society of mages, why the Invisibles/Aeland's nobility must keep their magic secret, the history of witchcraft persecution, the political context of the big freakin’ war that just ended, what who where Laneer even is, how long was the war even, how the use of aether came about, the myths of the Amaranthine… Miles’ age, . So much description was put on food and clothes and transportation and nowhere near as much worldbuilding for what was happening.

And maybe 100 or so more pages to establish character. Like, Miles’ family is , and I didn’t see this reflected in him at all. Tristan is from a , and his characterization didn’t reflect this must either other than him being vaguely all-knowing all the time. All the other characters were pretty flat as well, Grace was probably the most complex but even then it was all just so straightforward and eh.

There was definitely promise – the setting sounded gorgeous and interesting, the magic system and society built around that, the magical equivalent of PTSD/shell shock was a really interesting idea too. The rough shape of the plot AND the romance was actually really good, reflecting on it. They all had the promise of a fantastic novel, but I feel it would have been better if – and this is always an awful thing to say, I cringe at myself – it had been written by another author with a more refined writing toolkit. It could have just been a simple fluff piece to read on my commute but it had these glimmers of being something more, so I just ended up frustrated with the book and skimmed it until the end just so I could be done and move onto better books.

Everything just… happened in this book, painfully linear and straightforward without much suspense being built between the three strands of plot. Like, it was coherent, which is a plus, but the delivery was lacking much impact. Like, we had so many major, in-context absolutely world-rocking revelations – like , SO easily accepted by the protagonists and we just moved on. Hell, the Invisibles are supposed to be this great secret society, but it's not presented with any great significance or context - the way the story read, they would work as either a well-known, widely accepted organisation or a secret one, it made very little impact either way. I feel this was definitely a product of the lack of worldbuilding to give us more context, but also a lack of characterization – every character had such simple and black-and-white motivations – and a lack of the author’s… will to care about executing these revelations well. Like, when Seriously. How were we supposed to care ?

And then the ending was just very abrupt and everything I hate in romances lmao.
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,861 followers
June 21, 2019
This novel (it’s difficult to believe it’s a first novel, it’s so accomplished) is invigoratingly original, crisply and subtly and wittily written, and features a propulsive narrative peopled by richly drawn characters. I’ll be very much looking forward to reading its sequel(s) upon release.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,260 reviews222 followers
February 21, 2019
A short fantasy with a setting inspired by Edwardian England and with a compelling protagonist.

Dr Miles Singer is a returned veteran working at a hospital as a psychiatrist. Only that's not the whole story: he's also Sir Christopher Miles Hensley, a powerful Secondary Mage, who would be bound as a living battery by his family of Mages had he not run off to war and disappeared. But the war is won, and the returning soldiers are putting an immense strain on the country's mental health facilities and Miles himself. And that's all on top of his family discovering his hiding place and planning to use him in their political maneuvering as well as a very strange visitor from somewhere else entirely.

There's a lot going on here and the author makes excellent use of scaffolding of Edwardian Era of England to shortcut a lot of the world-building. This isn't England, or our Earth, but it's similar enough in terms of technology and societal mores to not have to convey much of the setting to the reader. There's still plenty of fantastic elements though, including aether instead of electricity, and that souls are real and that magic is also known and separated on strict class lines.

It's also action-packed, with Miles getting entangled with his family again and the politics of the Mages and the aftermath of the recent war front and center along with the investigation being conducted by Miles' mysterious visitor and possible love interest. It puts the focus on familial obligation and feeling as well as how individuals serve society and their agency to do so.

I really enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the next one.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,132 reviews309 followers
December 31, 2019
Another book that I went into feeling lukewarm, but was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it.

Firstly, the prose is lovely. It has a crisp and fresh feel, making it hard to believe this is a debut novel. There is a certain maturity to the writing that makes it seem like the work of a more experienced novelist.

Secondly, the story is tight and well paced. Things move along very steadily, with clues to the mystery being revealed and the characters being developed in a way that feels natural and unforced.

The m/m romantic subplot is extremely well done. Honestly, it is hard to write romantic scenes that give enough to the reader so they don't feel cheated while at the same time not ruining the moments with cringey writing because the writer is obviously uncomfortable (and/or unskilled/unpracticed) writing that kind of scene. The romantic scenes here were lovely, and set at the right temperature considering the rest of the book and how the scenes fit within the larger story objectives.

For all that the story has many dark elements (magical bonding, oppression, murder...and worse) it maintains a surprisingly feel good tone. I wasn't expecting that, but I found I did appreciate it.

Notes on the audiobook: this book ticked all the boxes I look for in picking an audiobook - not overly long, not so complicated that I can't follow the story listened to in sometimes short increments, and, most importantly, a good narrator whose voice engages me. The narrator here was fabulous! I would definitely recommend this as an audiobook if your criteria are similar to mine.
Profile Image for Sarah.
634 reviews143 followers
May 30, 2019
There’s a lot of hype surrounding this book, and it’s no wonder, having been nominated for the Nebula, Locus, and Lambda Literary Award. Having been nominated for all these awards may have been a detriment to the book in the end. I was expecting a lot. Something like my reaction to The Wolf in the Whale.

I’ll be honest and say that I read most of this in one day, so it certainly started on a good note. When I finished the book, I initially rated it 4 stars, but upon reflection felt like I should lower the rating. It had an enchanting and cozy feel to it. It feels like historical fantasy, but it’s technically a secondary world that feels a lot like London (though Kingston makes me think of Jamaica which would have been awesome).

The world building all seems very solid on the surface. There are rules. It’s not a free-for-all. There’s structure and status. However, by the time I reached the end, I was questioning how coherent and consistent those rules really were.

Some minor world-building spoilers ahead: The super wealthy elite are all mages from powerful families, meanwhile, witches are persecuted. I’m confused about a few things in this regard: A) Do the non-magical people know that the wealthy elite are mages? B) If they do know, why persecute witches and not mages? and C) If they don’t know- am I expected to believe that the mages are just immune to witch trials due to their class status?. Either B or C is fine and acceptable, but it was never really explained and I felt like it was integral enough to the plot that it needed to be explained.

I kept reading thinking the author would get around to explaining it, but as I neared the end I understood she was expecting me to take it at face-value, which I didn’t appreciate.

Another issue I have is the conflicted messaging. There are themes in this book pertaining to slavery, and the more I reflect the more issues I have with it. I just don’t think the overall message was clear. We know where Miles stands on the issue, but one of the antagonists in the book isn’t clearly an antagonist (she feels more like an annoyance), and their stance on the issue is very murky. They say they want to help, but they have extremely misguided ideas on how they should help. It just made me feel a little icky inside.

The romance was sweet, but definitely not as major a factor as I had expected. I enjoyed it, but wished there was more. Additionally, the ending was super abrupt and a lot of the end scenes confused me. One minute I thought we were in one setting, the next I was in a different place. I had to reread a few times to see where the scene transition was and still couldn’t find it. It could have used just a few more pages.

But overall, the entertainment value is always the most important factor for me, and it delivered in that regard. I found it hard to put down, and the writing was decent. Polk did a good job of keeping me in suspense regarding the murder mystery and some of the strange happenings around Kingston. There are pretty high stakes. I’m currently undecided about whether I’ll continue with the series or not.
Profile Image for Amy Imogene Reads.
926 reviews793 followers
March 18, 2021
3.5 stars!

I fell in love with this world and its characters. Historic London-type vibes, murder mysteries, witches in hiding, a queer love story, and a massive world-ending plot twist?? Y'all.

Pacing: ★★ 1/2
World: ★★★★★
Enjoyment: ★★★★

Miles Singer is trying to hide the fact that he's a witch. In Aeland, a realm that feels like an alternate Edwardian London, being a witch means a one-way ticket to an asylum. Or in Miles' case, a one-way ticket to eternal servitude to his rich family. (Because the rich obviously treat their own witches differently. Rich people are the same no matter the world...)

Toiling away in a veterans hospital, Miles tries to keep a low profile. Because not only is he a witch in hiding--he's also hiding his true identity and avoiding his family. As plans go, it's semi-working. Miles is getting by.

But then a dying witch shows up at the hospital in the arms of a handsome stranger. The dying man gives his power to Miles, accuses an attacker of murdering him, and also hints at some huge issues with Aeland's current government and the "true" purpose of the war. He begs Miles to find out the truth. He calls out to Miles' duty as a fellow witch and binds him with mutual magic.

And all of this happens in front of the handsome stranger. Who may or may not be extremely interested in this turn of events. With some clever blackmail at play, the stranger and Miles embark on a detective adventure with very, very high stakes.

Will Miles find out the truth before his past catches up to him?

Wow, was this a fun story! For having been on my radar for a while, I was shocked at just how much of this novel took me by complete surprise. Witches, historic vibes, a murder mystery, a gay romance, and family angst?? This was so much fun. I absolutely fell in love with the world and its characters.

However. I need to say something about the pacing. The first half was slowwwwww. Too slow. Confusingly slow. In an effort to ease us into the world and provide a "cozy mystery" type atmosphere, we lost a lot of plot momentum. I had to struggle to stay engaged while waiting for the plot to kick off. BUT, once it takes off, this novel runs! So the issue resolved itself.

Overall, great read. If the blurb even mildly interests you, check this out. You will not be disappointed.

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24 reviews
June 20, 2018
1. The main character is always doing things that make no sense for the world or internal dialogue, but they forward the plot drama. It gave me a headache, so much whiplash between “no! I must be a cautious mouse!” and somehow him never making a single cautious decision. Or even a logical one. The characterization is a mess and this book is weak on its consistency. It’s kinda all over the place. Every once in a while it seems to realize it isn’t fleshing anything out and that there’s a bunch of problematic implications (see point 2), but then after a sentence touching on the issues, it trips blithely on and the pieces don’t hang together.

2. If that wasn’t enough, I almost set fire to my kindle when I realized one of the main storylines revolves around a “good slaver” trope. She is not good, or sympathetic. She is a magic-world slaver. There were 1000 ways within this text around this to get the same plot, and they probably would have actually helped the story make more sense, but instead we have a slaver who wants to own someone else, use their powers at will, and force them into a marriage they have no interest in to be part of a literal breeding pair because it will help her political interests. Just because she wants to be less evil than the others on some horrifying scale of human suffering does not make her good or sympathetic or anything else. She is a slaver. She is not good. She is literally willing to die instead of setting her magic slave free.

I remember now why I stopped preordering debuts.
Profile Image for Bethany (Beautifully Bookish Bethany).
2,037 reviews3,437 followers
December 9, 2021
Historical fantasy with a mystery plot and queer romance? Yes, all of that! Witchmark is my first book by C.L. Polk but it certainly won't be my last. It took me a little while to really get into the story, but I really got hooked. It's an interesting world with a solid mystery plot, AND it's a book set in historical England that tries to reckon with the realities of empire and colonization. There's a plot thread I won't get into because it's spoilery, but it really mirrors some things about the interplay of colonization and British wealth. We'll be discussing this more on my YouTube channel at the end of the month (12/26/21) for Blades & Bodice Rippers Book Club if you're interested!
Profile Image for Aliette.
Author 257 books1,996 followers
September 24, 2017
A lovely adventure/romance featuring a shell-shocked veteran working in a hospital in the wake of a devastating war, and the mysterious and aloof being who is here to investigate the disappearance of dead souls. Very strong atmosphere and strong characters (sister/brother relationship ftw), and an intriguing magic system.
Profile Image for Freya Marske.
Author 13 books1,673 followers
November 26, 2018

- classic murder mysteries?
- high-speed bicycle chases?
- an idealistic and exhausted Hufflepuff doctor protagonist?
- tense and complicated sibling relationships?
- meditations on war neuroses and empire and the terrible cost of prosperity?
- What If Sherlock Holmes Was A Fairy Knight And John Watson Was A Bit Magic?
- ...And There Was A Sexy Shaving Scene?
- ...........And They Fell In Love?

If so: friends, this book is for YOU.
Profile Image for ✨    jami   ✨.
660 reviews3,881 followers
April 17, 2019
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!
Profile Image for Veronique.
1,231 reviews169 followers
March 18, 2021
4.5* re-read

Was about to dive in book 2 but had to remind myself of what happened in this one, as you do.
Still a great read. Polk is brilliant at creating angst, slowly building, but ever present.

The cover is what attracted me first to this novel, but I ended up absolutely loving its content.

Witchmark features a world that feels very similar to our Edwardian times, but for its magic system, ‘technologies’, and resulting social classes and order. Still, with a few strokes, Polk’s setting is beautiful, horrible, and totally captivating. Then there is the plot, at first leisurely, but continually growing in pace, grabbing you in its wake to solve a crime, until the explosive denouement.

And yet, after all this, the best part and where I believe the novel shines, is through its narrator and main character. Miles’s voice is so charismatic, I was spellbound after the first page. Here is such a likeable protagonist, one that has gone through so much pain, and still determined to use his power and skill to heal patients, many suffering from what looks like PTSD, and do good. His investigations take him deeper and deeper into danger, as do his relationships with his power-hungry family. And then, to round it all off nicely, we have a soupçon of LGBT romance, so lovely, I defy anyone not to be charmed.

Loved it and cannot wait to see what Polk writes next.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,555 reviews3,753 followers
December 20, 2021
I'd say this is probably closer to a 3.5 stars -- I really liked the actual writing in this, as well as the character work and the overall vibes. It felt rather cozy, and I enjoyed the set up for the story, as it lent itself well to a number of different metaphors to our own world. That said, I think the execution of the plot left something to be desired. Perhaps it was just me, but I found the way the world building was explained in service of plot explication to be pretty confusing at times, which threw me out of the story. Still, intrigued enough by this to try something else from the author in the future
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