R97. Witchmark by C. L. Polk

Year Published: 2018
Pages: 320

Pairing: magic doctor and fairy Duchess bodyguard
First Sentence: The memo stank of barrel-printing ink and bad news.
Climax: "Miles carries Tristan to bed" is all I wrote in my notes for this and I don't remember what I wanted to elaborate on this. Alas! -MR

C. L. Polk's Witchmark has an excellent cover and an intriguing world: it's vaguely Edwardian era England, but instead it's secondary world fantasy, set in Aeland. Aeland is a place where the One Hundred Families are very wealthy and also mages who do weather magic. However, anyone with magical powers other than weather magic is called a witch, and believed to go insane.

The hero of the piece is Doctor Miles Singer. He's a member of one of the society's wealthiest families but as a young man he ran away to join the army, where he could use his healing magic in secret. Unfortunately for Miles, his time in the service coincides with Aeland going to war with the nearby country of Laneer, their technological inferiors.

The book opens some time after Miles has left the army, and is now working as a psychiatrist in a Veterans' hospital. His patients are exhibiting symptoms of something more than PTSD. But we learn that later. First, we're introduced to a mystery: hunky Tristan Hunter basically drops it into Miles' lap, bringing in a man who appears to be dying from poison. The man tells Miles that he's gotten too close to a mystery, and that Miles needs to get the rest of the way there. Miles and Tristan team up to solve the mystery of the man's murder, and some other puzzles that crop up along the way.

Normally for something I'm calling a romance novel, I'd write a full plot summary, but in this case I'm not going to. It's partly laziness, but it's also just that I don't want to have to go through all the non-romantic plot points. This is much more of a romantic fantasy novel than it is a fantastical romnov. On the other hand, it ends with Miles and Tristan's happily ever after, so it's not as if the romance is entirely in the background.

The romance in Witchmark is sweet, but not especially well-developed. The story is relatively simple, except that I thought the world-building was a bit confusing at times, which got in the way of my comprehension of the stakes. There are the Hundred Families, and also people called Invisibles, and I wasn't sure if these were one and the same. I do like that Polk takes advantage of her secondary world to discard some of the actual prejudices and social issues of the Edwardian era, which adds interest to the setting.

I enjoyed the book and the time I spent with the characters. For the most part it was a nice, pleasant palate cleanser after Lolita. I don't know that it was necessarily more than that, although the ending does take an abrupt tonal shift into existential horror. I feel similar toward this book as I did toward The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Both of them are just nice in a way that I find comforting but not essential reading.

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