I don’t like romance novels; they’re just not my thing. Unless the love story is mixed in with something else. In the case of Witchmark, that something else is a rather steam-punk/gas-lamp setting medical/political mystery. It’s Edwardian England sort of, and post some kind of nasty war effort that the protagonist Dr. Miles Singer had some role in. Because of his war experience he decided to work as a psychiatrist at a local hospital where he apparently specializes in treating veterans. The hospital is being forced to push patients out to make room for the newly arrived home, funding is always a problem, and then there’s the mysterious extremely attractive stranger who drags in a man who claims he’s dying of poison. All of this sounds pretty standard, and maybe even a little cliche. Except it’s totally not.
This is without question the most adorable romance I’ve ever read. Miles and Tristan are absolutely the cutest pair in getting into trouble trying to solve the mystery, getting to know each other, and falling in love. I love that both of them are able to admit their flaws and secrets to each other (and sometimes themselves) and that just makes their eventual mutual falling into each other’s arms (and I loved the image who carries whom off to bed- I wouldn’t have guessed it that way) all the more believable. There’s some real emotion in both characters, although we get things more from Miles’ perspective than Tristan’s, and the focus is really on them as individuals who grow into a couple, not a generic pair who everyone can see must eventually hook up after various forced misunderstandings.
What really helped me get into this story, and the reason I picked it up in the first place, is the setting. I like steampunk type fantasy, which this is. The post war world and political intrigue that comes as a result of the investigation into the mysterious death at the beginning connects well, and the addition of Mile’s sister Grace, the favored child of the family that Miles let think he was dead in order to escape things that are a little too spoilery to mention here, really helps set up a viable interesting world that has the potential to provide both entertainment and some commentary on the modern world, as some of the best fantasy and science fiction stories do. War, class, nasty politics, environmental and energy crises, magic, and faith are all here, and it works. Then again, things like and action packed suspenseful bicycle chase scene probably help.
My only smallish complaint is that I would have liked more details about what some things and people looked like. Tristan is described pretty thoroughly, but Miles is not; individual locations are described, like Miles’ office, but the general geography of the world is not. Things like this will likely come in future volumes, and there had better be some. Also, I wouldn’t mind seeing the wedding that is hinted at near the end (with no drama the day of; that kind of thing just annoys me).