Once upon a time, witches used to guide the dead to the afterlife. These days, in the world of Witchmark, only Storm Singers matter: witches are either guaranteed to go mad and require confinement in asylums or, if highborn enough, to be enslaved to the Storm Singers, who will use them as magical batteries, and breeders of the next generation of magical batteries. And what happens to the dead? Most folk assume they find their own way, I would guess.
But that’s not how the author nor publisher describe the book. Part murder mystery, part exploration of the human psyche, part alternate history, this fantasy grabbed me hard and wouldn’t let me go until I’d finished it. And I still have questions, and I really hope the author intends to write more in this world. Especially given the major societal upheaval in the country of Aeland implied by the ending.
Miles Singer ran away from home at a young age to avoid his fate as a magical battery for his sister, instead choosing to join the army and pursue his chosen career of healing. All of that goes to hell in a handbasket the night a dying man sees him for what he is, he meets Tristan, who is more than he seems, and his sister Grace returns to his life and — despite promising him by blood not to enslave him, goes ahead and does it anyway.
This book was well written and is a lot more grimdark than any of the descriptions I’ve seen makes it appear, and is problematic in more ways than just the slavery aspects. Grace and her father are slavers, make no mistake, and this is an empire built on slavery, in more ways than one. Grace is meant to be sympathetic, but she’s almost more of a horror than what they discover at the end of the book. And yet the fluid prose style and being in Miles’ head for the entirety of the novel meant I was caught up in his hopeless hope of freedom. Miles wants to stay hidden and live his life a free man. Tristan wants to find out what’s happening to the souls that aren’t going to the Afterlife. And Grace above all wants power, and will do anything to get it.