Mandy Reviews: Laura Powell's - "Burn Mark"

Burn Mark is the first novel in a planned series set in an alternate, present-day London. It’s a world where witches are both feared and revered. They must be registered with the government, tested for the strength of their ‘fae’ and bridled with iron. Unregistered witches are illegal and – sometimes – dangerous. The worst witch crimes (treason, terrorism and first-degree murder) are punished by a government department called The Inquisition by balefires – the burning of a witch at the stake in the centre of London and televised live across the country.

But like any well – or ill – intentioned law, there’s another side to the argument of protecting against witches, and protagonist Gloriana Starling Wilde (Glory for short) was born right into the thick of it. Covens. In Powell’s world, a coven of witches isn’t all pointy black hats and eyes of newt, but families of organised crime who’ll do anything just to survive and keep their fae from the cruel and often corrupt Inquisition. The side-effect is a mafia-type lifestyle of power, deceit and danger set between the upper and lower classes. Glory comes from a long line of powerful witches and can’t wait for her fae to kick in so she can help restore her coven to its rightful place in society.

The second protagonist in Burn Mark is Lucas Stearne, son of Ashton Stearne, Chief Prosecutor of the Inquistional Court. Lucas has his life firmly mapped out in front of him as a Witchfinder for the Inquisition. That is, until the day he unexpectedly turns fae.

Burn Mark skips between both Lucas and Glory’s points of view. Most of the time it’s very clear whose mind the reader is in, but occasionally it can get a little muddled, particularly early in the book. This makes for a couple of confusing paragraphs as we try to figure our way through a fairly large cast of characters. That said, both Glory and Lucas are very different; one from a lower working class family with a history of crime links, the other from a privileged background of private schooling and society parties. The two are great characters – faulty, believable and easy to empathise with. The banter and tension between the two of them is both fun and frustrating as they figure out how to trust each other (and they must) when they were born natural enemies.

The beginning of Burn Mark is a little slow, but well worth persevering. This was mainly due to a heap of information ‘dumping’ on the backstory and world. It was probably the quickest way for the author to get a lot of information to the reader, but it was also a lot to consume. However, once settled in the world and the characters (there’s a lot. Witches and Inquisition, both) Burn Mark becomes a serious slippery slope of conspiracy and betrayal. Powell’s witches and their fae (not magic. Fae) are unique – I’ve not read anything similar before. Their witchwork is inspired by hoodoo and African-American folklore rather than Harry Potter, and actual historical events are worked into the story too… Queen Elizabeth 1 a witch, anyone? I really enjoyed that this was a world where Facebook is still a place to check someone’s relationship status, and refugees and religion divide public opinion just as they do in our world today.

Burn Mark is to be followed by book two in the series: ‘Witch Fire’, due around May this year.

Burn Mark by Laura Powell

Published by Bloomsbury

ISBN – 9 781408 815229

Paperback, 403 pages.

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