This is the last novel in the Kingston Cycle, and I had to wait a little bit for the audiobook to become available, but it was worth the wait. You can see my reviews of Witchmark and Stormsong as well. There will be possible spoilers for the first two books at least, in the review below.
With Soulstar, C. L. Polk concludes her riveting Kingston Cycle, a whirlwind of magic, politics, romance, and intrigue that began with the World Fantasy Award-winning Witchmark. Assassinations, deadly storms, and long-lost love haunt the pages of this thrilling final volume.
For years, Robin Thorpe has kept her head down, staying among her people in the Riverside neighborhood and hiding the magic that would have her imprisoned by the state. But when Grace Hensley comes knocking on Clan Thorpe’s door, Robin’s days of hiding are at an end. As freed witches flood the streets of Kingston, scrambling to reintegrate with a kingdom that destroyed their lives, Robin begins to plot a course that will ensure a freer, juster Aeland. At the same time, she has to face her long-bottled feelings for the childhood love that vanished into an asylum twenty years ago.
Can Robin find happiness among the rising tides of revolution? Can Kingston survive the blizzards that threaten, the desperate monarchy, and the birth throes of democracy? Find out as the Kingston Cycle comes to an end.
Trigger warnings: forced institutionalization, forced pregnancy, physical abuse and neglect, executions, police brutality, tear gas, abusive family (non exhaustive list, it’s been a while).
Like the other books in the series, this one is also a mix of fantasy, mystery and romance. And like Witchmark, it’s also about recovery from trauma – this time a lot closer in time to the characters.
And if you thought “Witchmark was m/m, Stormsong was f/f, so this is gonna be a straight relationship maybe? since the summary did not give that away – nope, we get a nonbinary relationship in this one. And I also appreciated the fact that this was about an existing, more mature relationship that they both had to rebuild after trauma and separation, it felt right for the story. Robin’s partner Zelind is rescued from the asylums, which are even worse places than we’d imagined in book 1 and 2, so khe has a lot to think about. And khe has an awful family, so that doesn’t help. It was a lot, and I’d recommend minding the trigger warnings if you want to give it a go, but it was also beautifully executed.
The book brings the trilogy to its natural conclusion and you know, I was worried at first that Robin’s point of view would be so different and clash with the other two books, but it was the perfect choice. I’m glad CL Polk went with “Let’s tear this whole abusive system down” instead of giving us a slightly better status quo by the end, with still some abuse going on but Less Bad Probably. If the first two books showed us something, it’s that the whole monarchy is rotten to the core. And I do love a truly revolutionary fantasy story, with a characters striving towards a democracy rather than replacing one monarch for another, as Stormsong did.
The pacing was very, very quick and I’m not sure if that was at all believable, maybe it should have taken a bit more time for all of that to happen, but if I ignore that, I truly enjoyed this book. It’s very strong, and it hits a lot of topics that are relevant to us today, like police brutality, forced institutionalization, violence against Black or neurodivergent people (as you can very easily make that association between the witches being “different”, and saneism).
Polk also did a great job of making a sufficiently hateful and slimey king and associates, not quite black-and-white evil but fully intent on doing evil things if it would keep him in power and keep the rich and powerful satisfied, and listen… fully believable there. Do I love a complex villain? yes. But I also do love when we’re not kidding ourselves about bigots being bigots.
Overall this was an amazing, extra satisfying ending to the trilogy and my only regret is that we didn’t get to see more of Avia Jessup (and her relationship with Grace…) because I feel like the Press could’ve had a more central role in this. Well, at least the few journalists with some ethics. But the conclusion, without spoiling too much, dared to go where few fantasy stories go, and showed a society that could and would evolve for the better — and through hard work by the people who were discriminated against, not through some miracle either.