Series: The Kingston Cycle: Book Two
Author: C.L. Polk
Publisher: Tor Publishing
Length: 345 Pages
Category: Gaslamp Fantasy, F/F Romance
At a Glance: Snakes in the grass, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, murder, theft and a coverup, the mystery within the mystery—C.L. Polk handles it all with such a deft and talented hand, and she offers up a sweet and sincere romance along with the corruption and danger too.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Dame Grace Hensley helped her brother Miles undo the atrocity that stained her nation, but now she has to deal with the consequences. With the power out in the dead of winter and an uncontrollable sequence of winter storms on the horizon, Aeland faces disaster. Grace has the vision to guide her parents to safety, but a hostile queen and a ring of rogue mages stand in the way of her plans. There’s revolution in the air, and any spark could light the powder. What’s worse, upstart photojournalist Avia Jessup draws ever closer to secrets that could topple the nation, and closer to Grace’s heart.
Can Aeland be saved without bloodshed? Or will Kingston die in flames, and Grace along with it?
Review: Stormsong is the sequel to author C.L. Polk’s outstanding debut novel, Witchmark, a book that impressed me so immensely it ended up being one of my favorite reads of 2018. Thus, the two most pressing questions I had going into this novel were, one, would Stormsong live up to the excellence of Witchmark, and two, would Grace live up to her name. The answer to both is an emphatic yes.
The country of Aeland is facing a climate crisis as well as being in desperate need of an alternative energy source to fuel its economy, restore electricity and its communications network, and get its citizens back to work. The cause of Aeland’s downfall, the results of it not entirely unlike the Great Depression in some ways, ties directly into events that transpired at the end of book one, which makes it imperative, in my opinion, not to attempt to read this book as a standalone. The world building in Witchmark is one of its hallmarks, and that carries over to this book as well. I love the magic and spellcraft which ties into what was its gaslamp/steampunk style setting before the collapse, not to mention its supernatural elements, but what’s even more fascinating—or, perhaps disturbing—about the deterioration of Aeland’s technological advancements, which have been devastated by the rightful destruction of its power source, is the question of the greater good versus the end justifying the means. In this case, there is no gray area, and the risk to life and limb Grace’s brother, Dr. Miles Singer, took to destroy the aether network was not only justified, it was morally imperative.
There is a line of demarcation between the privileged and the working class that Grace is coming to recognize in her newly appointed role as Chancellor and the Voice of the queen. To put a finer point on it, Grace is seeing, firsthand, the bias inherent in a system which protects her but criminalizes other witches and dictates they go into hiding to avoid imprisonment. Fear mongering has been key to sublimating witches, instigating the Witch Protection Act, and Grace comes to see the exploitation in it and commits to right the wrong of it through compassion and strategic political maneuvering. The question is, when the truth emerges from the darkness of corruption and greed, what will become of a society whose queen has secrets of her own which have fueled her every move and decision? There is a revolution afoot, enlisting not only Grace’s aid but that of the Amaranthines (this realm’s version of the Fae). And Grace’s imprisoned father, a despicable and power-hungry man, may or may not have his hands in all of it.
This is where journalist Avia Jessup comes in. Her friend, and fellow journalist, Nick Elliot was murdered, and his death is the reason Miles and his lover Sir Tristan Hunter, an Amaranthine himself, were brought together in book one. Avia is in possession of Nick’s collection of notes and discoveries he made during his investigation of Aeland Power and Lights, and its government ties—he died because he was on the trail of something explosive and corrupt—which places Avia in the middle of all the danger and intrigue on the political landscape, and emphasizes her personal and journalistic integrity in the fight for the greater good. Something she fought hard for and left her own wealthy family to achieve. Something that earns Grace’s deepest respect and admiration, but which is not a clear-cut path to their romance.
And, of course, it all becomes moot if the Storm-singers fail to stop a powerful blizzard the likes of which means certain ruination and death to those in its path.
There is a corresponding murder mystery that aligns with political underpinnings which emphasizes not only the danger Grace and Avia find themselves in, but it threatens to undermine Grace’s goal of distancing herself from her father—the man who molded Grace in his image but did not succeed in making her his clone. He may have had a hand in her education and inspired in her a gift for political strategy, but Grace is fighting to become her own woman, to be more than, better than, just another cog in a corrupt system. Her proximity to Avia in their joint efforts to expose the truth breeds familiarity, and in Grace it breeds an empathy that makes her yearn for Avia’s respect. Misunderstandings and machinations from an outside force threaten to derail them before they even get started, though, and the peak of the action is inspired by events that affect Avia in dangerous ways.
Snakes in the grass, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, murder, theft and a coverup, the mystery within the mystery—C.L. Polk handles it all with such a deft and talented hand. I was every single bit as absorbed in and impressed by this book as by the first. Polk is a nimble storyteller, drawing bits and pieces from various characters, situations, and sources, and composing them into a whole cloth of conspiracy, internal affairs, betrayal, corruption, danger, and she’s not quite done weaving it all together yet. The storm is still threatening, Grace and Miles’s father lives to taint and corrupt another day, and there are witches yet to liberate. Polk offers a sweet and sincere romance to her readers as well, amongst all the corresponding storylines. While the budding relationship between Grace and Avia doesn’t overshadow the more critical machinations and issues facing them and Aeland as a whole, their happy start is not left in doubt, and I look forward to seeing them, along with Miles and Tristan, again in their continuing adventures.
You can buy Stormsong here:
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