C. L. Polk’s 2020 Stormsong is the second volume in their Kingston Cycle.
Dame Grace Hensley must put an end to on-going crimes against humanity being committed in her Aeland homeland. Then she must deal with the consequences.
Aeland powered magic by confining and exploiting those with witch powers. Dame Grace oversaw the soul-draining network. Now she has to come up with an alternative. It’s winter; it will be a hard winter now that weather controlling mages cannot draw on the network.
There’s more: Aeland is legitimately afraid of a neighboring nation, the Amaranthines, who demand that Aeland make amends for past abuses. The Amaranthines may decide to curse the whole nation, or just curse those government officials who carried out the actual abuse. That would be most of the Aeland government….
The Queen of Aeland is keen on finding a way to satisfy the Amaranthines that will not imperil her own position. She is still determined to find out how a certain minor nation mounted a necromantic assassination attempt (as detailed in the previous book). But if she punishes this nation, the Amaranthines will object. She’s reluctant to agree to any measures that might result in negative publicity. Freeing all the witches who had been enslaved to power the national grid, for example, sounds good on paper … but the freed witches would talk.
Grace’s father was one of the architects of Aeland’s malevolent infrastructure. Even though he’s currently in prison, he’s still trying to cling to power.
Grace is damned if she does anything to free the witches and damned if she doesn’t. She has to square this particular circle … and if she cannot, then she and Aeland will suffer.
It must be admitted that many of Grace’s actions in the previous book were highly questionable. In this book, she gets to evade significant punishment — at least for the moment. She’s been handed responsibility for what may be an intractable crisis. If she fails, as seems likely, punishment will descend. Still … it doesn’t seem quite fair that she gets a chance to redeem herself.
That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t like this book as much as I did the first one. Nor was I particularly fond of Grace, who is a far less appealing character than her brother Miles (the protagonist of Witchmark). This might have been a better book had it focused on the reporter Avia, Grace’s romantic interest. Unlike Grace, Avia has sacrificed a lot to pursue what matters to her. What we got in this book was a more conventional focus on the people at the top of the power structure. Ah, well.
Still, this isn’t a bad book; there’s a lot to enjoy here. Those readers who wonder what happened after the events in Witchmark will want to pick up the sequel.