A Gaslamp Fantasy with Political Intrigue and Witchcraft: The Kingston Cycle by C. L. Polk
Covers by Will Staehle
C. L. Polk’s fantasy debut Witchmark made a huge splash in 2018. It came in fourth for the Locus Award for Best First Novel, was nominated for a Nebula, and won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. It was also included in Best of the Year lists by NPR, Publishers Weekly, BuzzFeed, the Chicago Review, BookPage, and the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog. It had lots of stellar coverage — including the Los Angeles Public Library, which called it “Brilliant… full of atmosphere and thrills” — but my favorite review was from Publishers Weekly. Here’s an excerpt.
Polk’s stellar debut, set in an alternate early 20th century in an England-like land recovering from a WWI-like war, blends taut mystery, exciting political intrigue, and inventive fantasy. Miles Singer’s influential family of mages wants to turn him into a living battery of magic for his sister to draw on. Fearing this fate, he runs away to join the army and make use of his magical healing abilities, although — like all magic-users — he must hide his powers or risk being labeled insane and sent to an asylum. When Tristan Hunter, a handsome, suave gentleman who’s actually an angel in disguise, brings a dying stranger to Miles’s clinic, the two pair up to uncover the reason for the man’s mysterious death… Polk unfolds her mythology naturally, sufficiently explaining the class-based magical system and political machinations without getting bogged down. The final revelations are impossible to see coming and prove that Polk is a writer to watch for fans of clever, surprising period fantasy.
The sequel, Stormsong, arrived in trade paperback earlier this month, and you know what that means. Time for me to track down a copy of the first book! Here’s the back covers for both.
PW calls Stormsong a “superb sequel,” and Kirkus gives a (rather spoilery!) summary which ends thusly:
As the country’s new Chancellor, Grace is supposed to calm the people, maintain the status quo, and mollify the Amaranthines, the faerylike psychopomps who condemn the aether network’s abuse of souls. As the Voice of the Invisibles, Grace must lead a cabal of unwilling mages to quell the worst storms that Aeland has seen in centuries. But she has no support from her scheming peers, and her imprisoned father, the former Chancellor and Voice, is clearly manipulating events behind the scenes… A thoughtful and passionate depiction of one woman’s struggle to discover her truest self.
Both books were published by Tor. Here’s the publishing details.
Witchmark (318 pages, $15.99 in trade paperback/$9.99 digital, June 19, 2018) — cover by Will Staehle
Stormsong (352 pages, $17.99 in trade paperback/$9.99 digital, February 11, 2020) — cover uncredited
See all our recent coverage of the best in recent Series Fantasy here.
These do sound like a pair of fantasies that do a lovely job in exploring the meaning of magic in a world that wants to believe but does not dare to. Plus bicycles!
And am I missing something, or does the back cover of Stormsong not say “Cover art and design by Will Staehle”?
Right you are. Good eyes! I have updated the post with an artist credit for both covers.