Kate Ashwin’s Widdershins is an ongoing webcomic. It debuted October 2011; Chapter One, Sleight of Hand, covers the first 59 updates.
Sidney Malik has an inexplicable, involuntary magical talent: pickpocketing. This results in his expulsion from Widdershins University. He had not quite completed his magical studies degree before the ignominious boot, hence he is uncredentialed — which limits his career options. He is adept in the mundane sort of stage magic (slight of hand, illusions, and what have you) but the demand for stage magicians is too limited to pay his rent. As he faces eviction, he realizes that the logical thing to do is to confess all to his parents … but he cannot bring himself to admit his failure.
Then he encounters the self-styled Prince of Thieves, Thomas Macavity.
The encounter costs Sidney his meagre wallet, but leaves him with one of Macavity’s treasured possessions: a magical bracelet of rare power. The bracelet may be the solution to Sidney’s problems. Macavity and his minions do not take the loss of the bracelet lightly and are pursuing Sidney with grim intent. Dead men generally don’t have problems.
Bounty hunter Harriet “Harry” Barber waylays Sidney before he can be caught by the thieves. This is only a temporary stay of execution. Macavity will not be deterred; he merely adds Harry to the Wanted list.
Harry knows something neither Sidney nor Macavity do; the bracelet is effectively a treasure map. Although she is not quite sure what’s at the spot marked X, she at least knows how to find X. And what could possibly go wrong when one is tracking down a hidden treasure that may be cursed?
Ashwin’s Victorian England with Magic is, as usual for this sort of thing, not notably different from Mundane England: the trains may run partly on magic, but they are still recognizably trains of the period. England is classist, criminals talk like minor characters from Dickens novels, and foolish young men still amble blindly into life and death scrapes.
Harry Barber joins the roster of such fictional women detectives as Lady Ashton , Lady Grey , and Alexia Tarraboti . Unlike the other female sleuths, Harry is no slumming aristocrat. She seems at best middle class; she has no estate, no investments, and cannot afford to solve crimes as a hobby. She makes her living at a trade (shudder).
The webcomic art is functional, although occasionally marred by awkward composition.
This was an amiable beginning. The first chapter is reasonably high stakes, but leaves room for the author to build on her foundation 1. There are sufficient unanswered questions — in particular the origin of Sidney’s pickpocket magic — to provide hooks for further adventures. This was a pleasant way to spend a Friday morning and I look forward to catching up on the series.
Collected Widdershins volumes and other merch is available here.
1: For example, the Fate! Of the World! Isn’t at stake, so this is not going to devolve into a Buffy-esque self-parody whose moral seems to be “judging by the last seven failed apocalypses, evil is terribly incompetent.”