Long time, no reviews. Time to tackle the backlog!
I came about this series in a very arse backwards manner. I was given a copy of the book Soulstar sometime last year and I got about a quarter of the way through before I gave into the feeling that something wasn’t right… The funny thing about ebooks is that looking for the blurb is not as simple as with a hardback. So I had missed it—and because of that, also missed the fact that I had started reading the third book in a trilogy.
That smarted a bit. But now that have tracked down the prior two books and read everything in The Kingston Cycle in order, I can say that it was well worth my time.
The series is named after the city of Kingston, which is where our first protagonist., Miles Singer, resides at the start of Witchmark. After the war with Laneer, Miles is working as a doctor offering psychiatric care at the local veterans’ hospital. But Miles isn’t all that he seems; taking advantage of the chaos of war, Miles has shed his old identity and knitted a new one for himself. But Miles’ stitches start to unravel one night when a dying patient—insistent that Miles solve his murder—spills the beans in front of both his good friend Robin and the handsome stranger that brought the man in —Tristan.
My first impressions of Witchmark was that this was heading towards gas-lamp fantasy of the highest calibre—and I was right. The setting has a very natural, lived in feel; Aeland is very much like Edwardian England, but with a lot more magic, and in some ways it’s very much like Full Metal Alchemist. The worlds stand in for electricity—aether—has only just become a common commodity that is changing the landscape of the country. Also changing the landscape of the country are a set of very dangerous storms, that can only be fought off with the power of magically talented Storm-singers, who channel their powers via Bound secondaries. And its only for these upper-class singers that magic is socially acceptable. Anyone else is a witch. And we all know what happens to witches…
But what did take me by surprise is the romance angle. So I mentioned that Miles meets a certain someone that is very handsome? And that he might fancy him? Turns out that plays a stronger part in the plot that I initially expected! But as sweet as this though, the murder investigation drives most of the book.
The following book, Stormsong, picks up where Witchmark finishes off, just with a different point of view character. This time we are following Miles sister Grace, which frustrated me initially, because I thought going from the lovely, compassionate Miles to his self-absorbed sister was going to be a letdown. But C.L. Polk decided that just gives them the opportunity to show off just how someone can grow. While I want to be very careful about spoilers, the end of Witchmark lead to some huge revelations that again, reminded me of Full Metal Alchemist—yes, that part, I’m sorry to say— and this has caused yet another crisis for Aeland. With Grace thrown into the middle, trying to make everything right. Her situation is made more complicated when an important diplomat is killed on her watch. And on top of that, Grace starts falling for the tenacious photojournalist Avia Jessup, who is really far too good at uncovering the kinds of secrets that could turn the nation upside down.
Another surprise romance? Who would have thought?
Just like Stormsong, the final entry in the series, Soulstar, starts with a new perspective. But this time it’s Robin, Mile’s friend from the veterans’ hospital. I was a little surprised at this at first, as Robin was a rather peripheral character beforehand, but she very quickly endeared herself to me. While the previous two books dealt with a massive political upheaval Aeland (to keep things vague), Soulstar deals with the less-than-tidy aftermath. While Grace and Miles—being from such privileged and important backgrounds—were trying to change things from the top, Robin is from a much more humble background and is working on changing things from the ground up. Thankfully, Robin has a very sure head on her shoulders.
And again, like the previous two books, there is romance involved. But unlike Grace and Miles, who dealing with new and unexpected loves, Robin is trying to rekindle something she once had—twenty years ago, Robin married their partner Zelind in secret. Not long afterwards, Zelind found kherselves suffering from the same fate that many lower-class witches found themselves in. It’s only at near the start of the book that kher and Robin are reunited. And the much like changes Robin is trying to introduce to society, things are having to be rebuilt from the ground up.
In and of itself, Soulstar is a very well put together book, that caps off the political story wonderfully—and somewhat realistically. But with regards to the whole trilogy, it is a little more detached. This is due to the fact that both the protagonist and the situations she finds herself in are really very different to those of both the previous entries. In addition, while the fantasy elements in both Witchmark and Stormgsong played an important role in shaping the domestic conflicts of Aeland, they take an even further seat back here. Again, read on its own, the more grounded story works very well, but as the last part of a trilogy, it did feel a little odd.
Overall though, I am really glad I took the time to read the Kingston Cycle in its intended order. This is a solid and very enjoyable that tackles social and political issues head-on
Not something that I would have giuessed from the rather pretty and cute covers! But maybe they were there to give away the romance angles instead… just look at the cover for Soulstar!
For the Passport Challenge C.L Polk is a New Author. But in the spirit of things, I will count this as one square and not three. As it is only one author