The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Title: The Midnight Bargain
Author: C.L. Polk
October 2020
Publisher: Erewhon
Readership: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: ★★★


I received a copy of The Midnight Bargain from Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

From the beloved World Fantasy Award-winning author of Witchmark comes a sweeping, romantic new fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Regency England, where women’s magic is taken from them when they marry. A sorceress must balance her desire to become the first great female magician against her duty to her family.

Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?

The beautiful covers strike again!

The Midnight Bargain is about Beatrice, a young sorceress living in a world where women can’t have it all – they have to choose between practising magic or having a family, and if they choose family, their magic is shackled. Beatrice’s family is in debt and the only way to save the family is for her to marry well, which is at odds with her desire to become a Magus. On the verge of discovering a source of information to assist her in her quest, she crosses paths with the Lavan siblings, and she ends up striking a bargain with spirit in her search to get the answers she wants. What she doesn’t count on is her family’s insistence that she toe the line, the incorrigible Ianthe Lavan or just how much the society she lives in wants to stop women from practising magic.

I may have taken on more than I could handle with this fantasy novel – most long-time readers of my reviews, or viewers on my Youtube channel know I’m extremely picky about the fantasy I read. I struggled a bit with this book, but not because it’s poorly written – it’s well-written and has a lot of fight-the-patriarchy vibes that I can appreciate. The world is built up in detail and I could “see” this very tightly constrained society in my mind while reading.

The thing I struggled with most were the characters – for the most part, I just didn’t believe in them. Maybe it’s because this borders on young adult fantasy, but something didn’t feel right. I think it would be easy to shrug off this feeling and say that the lead female characters were brash and unlikeable, but even though they were prickly (which was kind of the point), there things I liked about Beatrice and Ysbeta Lavan, but overall I think they were a little ‘flat’ – both young women are determined to not be ruled by men (which I am okay with) but there’s only ONE path for them to follow and no room for growth in that. Once they set their course that’s it for them, which was demonstrated in the ending of the book which was disappointing. Through in the instalove between Beatrice and Ianthe and it was just a little lacklustre overall.

I found the beginning of the book to be slow but the middle picked up the pace and really started to unpack and explore some of the themes that the author seemed to be playing around with: what if women rose above the expectations of society. This part of the book felt particularly relevant – in this world where everyone is capable of small magics, but only men can rise to the greater magics and women are collared and shut off from their magic to bear children is deeply symbolic. As a reader, I wanted Beatrice and Ysbeta to be able to do something about that, but ultimately their impact felt rather small for what appears to be a standalone novel. The conclusion lacked the punch that should have been delivered off the power of the middle of the book.

As a book it’s perfectly fine and I think it tackles some important ideas, but without strongly written characters a lot of the time I felt like I was just going through the motions.

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