I read Witchmark by C. L. Polk about a week ago, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Partially, that’s the weather–October has finally started feeling like fall, and this book feels exactly like a misty, autumn afternoon–slightly damp, slightly chill, slightly mysterious, but familiar. It’s the perfect London Fog book, but not quite London and not quite fog.
Witchmark is…undefinable. I hesitate to call it fantasy, though it does take place in a near-Earth something-like-England mired in a World War and suffering the consequences of repressing magic and hiding from the realm of the fair folk. I don’t want to label it as a mystery, though there is a murder and a whodunit plot that had me stumped until the moment of reveal at the end that had my jaw on the floor in surprise. It’s not really historical, though it feels like Miles’ hospital could have been built on any London street that could house a bevy of bicycles, horse-drawn cabbies, and the advent of the motorcar all at the same time. Perhaps, then, it’s all three: a historical fantasy with a mystery at its center that makes for a very interesting read.
It’s…soft. Like that autumn mist, it’s got its moments where the damp slips down your spine and makes you shiver. But the tone is beautiful, all soft edges and cups of tea. And the characters help this along–Miles is a genuinely good person tangling with a harsh past that should have spat him out with sharp edges and a lot of hatred, but instead made him want to help people. Which he does, regardless of what he loses personally in the effort. Which makes him irresistible to me, as a character–I love soft boys, and Miles is one of the softest.
Polk handles PTSD and trauma beautifully, not shying away from the horrors of war, abuse, and their aftereffects. It’s a very real portrayal, despite the magical causes of Polk’s “war fatigue”, and it adds a layer to this very rich book. The magic is interesting and complex, and I look forward to exploring it more in the next book–Miles’ need to hide his magic, and his inexperience in using it, made me yearn for a deeper dive into all the different things the witches of Kingston might be able to do. We get hints–the disappearing souls, the control of the weather, the realm of the fae–but I’m looking forward to so much more than hints when Greystar comes out (hopefully) soon.
And I know it’s a bit of a spoiler, but you don’t see a lot of books where the queer characters come out happy at the end–it was really, truly, wonderfully satisfying to have that in a book that was already so beautiful.
You can grab Witchmark online here, or call the store to reserve a copy!