The Kingston Cycle by C.L. Polk

Soulstar, the third book in C.L. Polk’s fantasy trilogy, is out now. The books are a beautiful mass market paperback set, with themed covers. With in those covers Polk introduces us to a complex, believable world, a world in the midst of transition. Each book is narrated by a different character in Aeland’s capital city of Kingston, and each story unveils a different facet of society.

The first book, Witchmark, Miles, an army doctor suffering from PDST. Miles has more than just the trauma of war to deal with; he has spent his life hiding his magical abilities–and the last several years hiding his identity. Miles is the son of a powerful politician, and his sister, Grace, is one of the Royal Knights, a secret society who use magic to head off the devastating storms that would otherwise ravage Aeland. Every member of the Knights has a “second;” a magical person tethered to them and used like a battery. Miles changed his name and fled his home to avoid being tethered to Grace. As the book opens, a member of the fae-like Amaranthine people has approached him and asked him to help solve the mystery of the “accidental” death of an apparent vagrant. Before Miles can fully investigate, Grace finds him. Miles soon realizes that the death is part of a much larger state secret, a terrible one, and he must also expose a sneak attack by the enemies Aeland thought they defeated in the recent war. He is hindered by his brilliant sister, who betrays him over and over again.

Stormsong is narrated by Grace. Like Miles, Grace has faced the truth about the source of energy their country thrives on, and what that means for anyone gifted with magic. She is horrified, determined to make things right. Grace rises to a position of importance in the government, but even though she knows her villainous father’s part in the decades-long atrocity that literally powered the country, she wants to think the best of him, and keeps falling for his schemes. Can Grace grow up? Will she do the right thing even if it means a sacrifice of power and luxury–or even her freedom?

Stormsong was an interesting book for me, because by the end of Witchmark I detested Grace. Let me be clear; I didn’t dislike her as a character–I disliked her as a person. This is a testament to Polk’s characterization skills. I seriously wondered, going in, if Grace was ever going to win a second chance from me. Grace’s dilemma is real in a number of ways; it’s hard to divorce our feelings for family from their actual actions– and when we’re on the good side of the privilege rope, it’s hard to give up privilege, and so tempting to believe that systems are ultimately fair, just slightly corrupted, and that incremental change will be enough. Grace eventually won me over–and she lost a lot in the process.

Soulstar is the story of Robin Thorpe, who we met in Witchmark. Robin is a member of the Clans, a community where many people manifest magical ability and nearly all have been imprisoned “for the safety of the state.” The enslaved magical people are being forced to produce energy that feeds the power grid. When Soulstar opens, Grace, with the help of the Amaranthine, has forced the release of all the witches. It’s winter, the power grid is down and thousands of unjustly imprisoned people have been released into the city. Robin is reunited with her first love, and plans to quietly help a nascent political movement that seeks a democratic approach instead of a monarchy, but events thrust her into the spotlight, making her a leader and a target. And Christopher Hensley, Grace’s evil father, still influences the brash, power-hungry young king. Robin is beset by adversaries on all sides.

Polk’s trilogy is jam-packed with plot and exciting elements. The various communities are well-described. There are romantic or intimate conflicts in every book, there is physical and political danger, there is a looming question of how people will literally survive the winter with no heat. Book One took the form of the mystery novel, while Stormsong and Soulstar are more what I would consider political thrillers. In each book, Polk gets the ball rolling on page one. Her fluid prose makes these easy to read. The world is believable and the danger is real. I recommend the series.

This entry was posted in Book Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *