Witchmark is the first book in a fantasy series set in a world inspired by Edwardian England during WWI.
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: something rich people do every day (magic) is considered dangerous and morally corrupt when poor people do it. And is technological progress worth the exploitation of less privileged people?
There’s also a focus on agency I really appreciated. Miles has run 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.
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.
I read this for the “read a book involving medicine” challenge of Marvel-A-Thon.
My rating: ★★★★¾