Witchmark by C. L. Polk (The Kingston Cycle, #1)
I'm still giddy about Witchmark. This book hits the ground running and shouts brusquely over one shoulder that the reader had best keep pace. I felt like a detective slowly discovering secrets; the world was complex and the characters were immediately fascinating.
It's world-building by immersion with very few asides and explanations for the first third of the book. By the time it deigns to pause for backstory it's all details of a personal nature; political alignments and players in power. It assumes that the reader knows whatever someone growing up here would have been taught, but it casually drops in just enough explanation that I felt a sense of triumph every time some previously opaque bit of detail was clarified.
Even when I didn't yet know where I was I knew why I cared. Though the explanations took a bit to arrive, the characters were great from the start. Miles was likable immediately, the main plot kicks off with a bang, er, with a person desperately in need of his help, and it was a really fun read. I have a bias towards liking the character, Robin, but everyone felt really engaging (even the ones I don't share a name with). Flipping through it I see some stuff in the early bits that I didn't know were actually important when I started and it makes me want to re-read this immediately to soak up more detail.
The characterization is solid, there's a quaint understated-ness in certain areas which made it really feel like it maps on to a vaguely 1900's, quasi-British sensibility while still being its own thing. Those points of familiarity helped ground me as I got a sense of how this world describes itself, while gradually making it clear that this was truly some fantasy land as the book kept rolling.
I loved the ending, I finished this book really happy about how everything ended up and very excited to read the next one.
CW for murder, coercion, enslavement.