My Favorite Bit: C. L. Polk talks about WITCHMARK
C.L. Polk is joining us today to talk about her novel Witchmark. Here is the publisher’s description:
C. L. Polk arrives on the scene with Witchmark, a stunning, addictive fantasy that combines intrigue, magic, betrayal, and romance.
One of Publishers Weekly‘s Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2018!
In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.
Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family’s interest or to be committed to a witches’ asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn’t leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans’ hospital, Miles can’t hide what he truly is.
When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles’ healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient’s murder. To find the truth he’ll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he’s ever seen.
What’s C.L.’s favorite bit?
C. L. POLK
Stories change a lot between revisions. You’d never recognize the story I first wrote for Witchmark. I added thirty thousand words, cut two subplots, and discovered Grace Hensley, Miles Singer’s younger sister.
Grace was the favorite child. Gifted with a strong talent for Storm-Singing, Grace grew up as her father’s daughter, trained to take his place as the leader of the secret circle of mages who hold back the storms that would ruin Aeland’s agricultural prosperity. And she’s a failure, because her brother successfully escaped his fate as a lackey and magical battery. The subsequent loss of reputation has put the Hensley name in freefall, and she’ll do anything to claw her way back to the top.
I sense the enlightened nods. Ah. An antagonist.
Except it’s not quite so clear. Grace refuses to force her brother into the subservient position that would repair the damage to the family name. Faced with a choice between power and love, Grace promises the one thing she absolutely shouldn’t–she swears a blood oath not to bind her brother’s magical power without his consent:
She had a blade out of her pocket in a heartbeat. I shut the door but kept my hand on the lever. She drew the white-handled blade across her skin. “I bind my power to this promise: I will not bind your power to mine without your consent.”
Blood welled up in her palm, and she drew a stylized G that carried the suggestion of a bolt of lightning. “By my oath, my mark, and my blood, this is true.”
She used the strictest of vows. A tripled oath was impossible to break. It was old magic, older than Link Circles, older than storm-singing, and she’d done it without hesitation.
She held her hand out. The blood seeped back into her skin, the spell a part of her forever.
With this vow, she wins enough trust to start interfering in Miles’ life…and she’s every bit as abrasive as an opinionated sister can get. Love for her brother or not, Grace Hensley is still a bit of a snob, and is scandalized to discover where her brother lives:
“Birdland? You live in a single room in a boarding house in Birdland?”
She was as I remembered her, making an awful face at a supper she didn’t like or a notion she wouldn’t abide. The years melted away as I winked at her. “You’re sounding better. Cold cleared up?”
“After I nearly burned to death with your cure. I’m perfectly well.” She glanced around at the kitchen. I was glad Mrs. Bass’s enameled iron pots were free of stains and she’d never let a speck of dust settle anywhere. But Grace looked as if this kitchen were a pathetic hovel. “How much are they paying you?”
“Enough.” The meat had surrendered to hours on the simmer. “I could afford a flat, if I could find one.”
“Leave it to me. Birdland. Indeed.”
And where he works:
“So you donated a hill of money to the hospital.”
“I should have offered more. You really don’t have a lift?”
“We really don’t.”
“The least I could do for them. A parting gift.”
I put my spoon down. “A what?”
“I know what to do.” Grace leaned over her bowl, elbows firmly on the desk. “Your own practice.”
“Hear me out. You can have privileges at every hospital in the city—”
“I wouldn’t need privileges unless I was doing surgery—”
“You can,” she said. “You’d never have to worry about being discovered.”
Oh, of course. I leaned back. “Because my patients would be from the Hundred Families. An exclusive clientele, getting their maladies treated with magic.”
And the company Miles keeps:
I settled back into my place between my sister and Tristan, who regarded each other with narrow- eyed dislike. “Miles, who is this?”
I winced. “Grace, this is my . . . friend, Mr. Tristan Hunter.”
Her hand tightened on the crook of my elbow and I blundered on. “Mr. Hunter, this is Dame Grace Hensley, Her Majesty’s Royal Knight.”
Tristan swept off his hat and bowed. “How do you do?” The gesture was perfectly correct, but it was no courtesy.
Grace stood with her feet and shoulders squared up to face him. She bristled with hostility. What on Earth— ?
Of course. She could see Tristan’s veiling magic.
“Grace,” I said, gently. “Mr. Hunter is my friend.”
She continued staring at him. “Indeed.”
Protective, loyal, and ambitious, or judgy, controlling, and arrogant? People don’t seem to stay neutral in their opinions on Miles’ sister. But I can’t help but speculate that Grace probably would be considered driven, responsible, passionate, and in a difficult position if her name was Gary. I love Grace because she defies the narrow strip of ground fictional women are allowed to occupy. She’s not nice enough. She doesn’t do emotional support. She’s opinionated, openly ambitious, sure of her own abilities and talents. She has flaws and weaknesses that make me facepalm, but her love for her brother shines through, creating all kinds of obstacles in what ought to be a clear path to her destiny as the leader of Aeland’s magicians.
Grace is a difficult woman, and I cheer for her.
C.L. Polk writes fiction and spots butterflies in Southern Alberta. She has an unreasonable fondness for knitting, single estate coffee, and the history of fashion. Her debut series beginning with the novel Witchmark is available from Tor.com.