Dr. Miles Singer is a man with secrets. First, his name isn’t really Miles Singer, it is Sir Christopher Hensley. He is a child from an aristocratic family of magic users who are deeply entrenched in Aeland’s government. While it is true that he is a doctor and a veteran, however he was never meant to be either. He was meant for a life of servitude to his sister, acting as a booster or battery, for her magical power. So he ran away, hiding his magical abilities and noble background, to pursue a life serving as a physician and psychiatrist working with other war veterans in the wards of Beauregard Veterans Hospital.
But Dr. Singer isn’t the only one with secrets. Tristan Hunter, the gentleman who shows up at Miles’ hospital with a dying man, has secrets of his own. And Nick Elliot, who is the dying man Hunter brings to the hospital, has a secret that could change Aeland forever. To protect his carefully guarded identity, Miles agrees to Elliot’s dying request to expose his killer, sending him and Tristan on a quest to uncover why Elliott was killed, and by whom.
In Witchmark, debut author C.L. Polk weaves a fantasy tale of intrigue and politics, passion and treachery. The world she has built and the system of magic that both shapes and is shaped by that world is wonderfully complex and recognizable. Think of a post-WWI England, recovering from war, grappling with new technologies and challenges to old ways of thinking. Add to that a system of magic that means unbridled freedom and luxury for the few, while relegating the majority to slavery, madness or death.
The characters are vividly drawn, and Polk establishes real connections and conflicts between them. In particular, Miles is a wonderfully complex individual. He is self-aware enough to walk away from family obligations and a life of privilege, to pursue the life he wants. That life, however, turns out to be one of self-sacrifice, denial, and service as a psychiatrist at a hospital always seemingly teetering on the brink of financial disaster.
Polk does a delightful job of showing how the two amateur, but competent, sleuths reason out where and why to look for information about Elliott’s death. As they uncover clues and information, Polk rachets up the tension as it becomes clear that the murderer may feel the need to kill them, too, if they get too close to the truth. Polk also creates a tantalizing romance between Miles and Tristan that simmers throughout the novel. The two men are repeatedly pushed to the edge of acting on their attraction, only to be interrupted, sidelining their desires repeatedly so they can focus on Nick Elliott’s death.
Witchmark is a brilliant read, full of atmosphere and thrills, likable characters, and more than a bit of romance. It is a remarkable debut!