The Midnight Bargain

by C.L. Polk

3.88 of 5 stars 4 ratings • 5 reviews • 21 shelved
Book cover for The Midnight Bargain

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The Midnight Bargain

by C.L. Polk

3.88 of 5 stars 4 ratings • 5 reviews • 21 shelved

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?

  • ISBN10 1645660079
  • ISBN13 9781645660071
  • Publish Date 1 November 2020
  • Publish Status Unknown
  • Publish Country GB
  • Imprint Erewhon Books
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 384
  • Language English


Avatar for heather

Heather 4.5 of 5 stars

I picked up this book knowing nothing about it based on my love for the author’s previous work. I think I like this one better than those.

This is a deeply feminist story. In this world, all people might be born with the skills to do magic. They do this by pairing with spirits. However, there is a risk that if a woman becomes pregnant, a spirit can take over the child before the child’s soul is fully formed. This child will eventually turn highly violent. Punishment is death for both the mother and child. Not the father of course. /sarcasm.

To prevent this all women are required to wear a collar that cuts them off from their magic as soon as they marry. This is unthinkable for Beatrice. She is a very powerful sorceress but she is untrained. Girls don’t get training because they are just going to be collared anyway. Beatrice has been learning in secret though. Her plan is to make herself unmarriagable by becoming a full mage. Just as she finds a grimoire that will give her the final spell she needs, it is taken from her by Ysbeta. Ysbeta feels the same way about her future as Beatrice. She comes from a very wealthy family. She has property that she will lose if she gets married. She wants to become a mage but she isn’t skilled enough yet. They are both running out of time before their families marry them off against their will. They are going to have to work together to get what they want.

I loved the interactions between Beatrice and Ysbeta’s brother. He is set up as her love interest and he would be better for her but better isn’t good enough. She points out that it is him allowing her to use her magic and that isn’t ok. It isn’t his to allow.

I also loved this discussion about the effects of patriarchy that men just don’t understand. Referring to the issues with pregnant women doing magic, she says:

“But no one is looking for another way,” Beatrice said. “The current system lays all of the restriction, all the responsibility, and all of the burden on sorceresses. Men aren’t inconvenienced in any way. They may do whatever they like. For them, the system isn’t broken, so why look for a solution?”

It applies to so much. The epilogue was amazing. MILD SPOILER – a partial solution is found and Beatrice tries to explain it to a group of men. They lose their minds because the solution calls back to the quote above and mildly inconveniences men in order to free women. Can’t be having that now, can we?

Avatar for terrimleblanc

I encountered Polk's book at just the right time. I was having a hard time focusing and staying awake with the change in seasons, and The Midnight Bargain was the perfect antidote. A richly laid out world with a fascinating storyline, I was able to slide right in each time I picked up the book and be totally absorbed. Polk's prose is light with a lot of attention to detail. I loved every minute and would be delighted to have tea and play hazzards with Beatrice and Ysbeta.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Avatar for quirkycat

Quirky Cat 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of The Midnight Bargain in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Midnight Bargain is the latest novel to come from C.L. Polk (famous for Witchmark and other novels). It's one part fantasy, one part historical romance, with the end result being such a unique experience to read.

Beatrice Clayborn was born to wield powerful magic. Unfortunately, she lives in a society that doesn't see it that way. In her world, women with magic are branded and cut off from their magic – to protect their future children.

That isn't the life that Beatrice wants to live. She wants to be a mage, true and proper. She doesn't want to meet society's expectations, or the expectations of her family, for that matter. Thus, she has devised a plan to forge a path to what she wants.

“The talent for sorcery in women is a curse when it ought to be a blessing.”

The Midnight Bargain is a shockingly intense and fascinating read. It is a fantasy novel, yes, but the addition of many other elements brings it to an entirely new level. The inclusion of historical romance added tender touches, while the debates surrounding rights, treatment of women, and societal expectations weighed down the novel – rightly so.

It has been a long time since I read a novel so rich and detailed. The Midnight Bargain well and truly got to me. So much so that I actually felt a strong hesitation to finish the book – some part of me wanted to stop before Beatrice's actions hit the point of no return. I feared for her, and feared the emotions her story would bring about in me.

That's how you know that a book has truly sunk its teeth into you, as opposed to the other way around. For that reason alone, I think that The Midnight Bargain is going to linger in the forefront of my mind for quite some time.

“This was everything she needed. No man would have a woman with such an alliance. Her father would see the benefit of keeping her secret, to use her greater spirit to aid him in his business speculations. She would be free. A mage. This was her miracle.”

There are plenty of curiosities in this world. From the magic, to the spirits summoned within, and the reactions to those with power. I was truly surprised by the depth found within – how hard Beatrice and other women like her fought for the right to be who (and what) they are.

In a way, it almost reminded me of Little Women. Endearingly so, if I might say so. The determination, the drive, and even the resistance all felt achingly familiar. Though perhaps I am the only one that walked away with that impression, it's hard to say. I would love to hear other inputs on the matter.

One thing is certain, I greatly enjoyed The Midnight Bargain, even if it did cause a bit of emotional distress during the reading. Likewise, I sincerely cannot wait to see what C.L. Polk comes up with next (and yes, Witchmark is already on my TBR list!).

See more reviews over at Quirky Cat's Fat Stacks

Avatar for niamh

niamh 4 of 5 stars
Thanks to #Netgalley for providing this free book in exchange for an honest review!

In a regency inspired world where women have to lose their magic when they get married, Beatrice has been secretly practising magic and hoping she could get married to her beloved, and keep her magic.

This premise holds such potential and I was so excited to read it. I'm sure so many reads will be captivated by Beatrice and her fight for freedom.

I loved the main characters individually, but also seeing their dynamics between each other and within the society they live in. I absolutely adored Nadi throughout and feel like she definitely provided some of the best moments in the book.

The Midnight Bargain draws some interesting, but painfully relevant, parallels between our world and Beatrice's world inrelation to sexism, misogyny and womens autonomy.

Polk has such a wonderful way making me feel like I was fully immersed in Beatrice's world and life. Between the magic system and relationship between characters, this feels like a solid book either stand alone or to start a series. The only downside to this book is that I felt the pacing was a little bit off in places, but I adored the plot and the characters which is why this is a 4 ☆

Avatar for bloggingwithdragons

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

I was pretty excited about The Midnight Bargain from the second I read the synopsis. The novel is a magical feminist satire with commentary on the inequality of women and men's role in that. In The Midnight Bargain, women with magic are forced to wear collars that dull their world, prevent them from using magic, and protect their babies from spirit possession in the womb. Main character Beatrice is forced into the dilemma of what she loves more: her magic or her suitor. 

"For women, magic was the solitary pursuit of widows and crones, not for the woman whose most noble usefulness was still intact. The inner doors of the chapterhouse were barred to her, while a man with the right connections could elevate himself through admittance and education among his fellow magicians. Anyone with the talent could see the aura of sorcery shining from Beatrice's head, all the better to produce more magicians for the next generation."

Beatrice is a highly intelligent and talented sorceress. If she were a man, she would have already risen up in the ranks of magic. But as a woman, she's only prized for her magical power in regards to producing equally talented children. Oof. With her family destitute and a younger sister, who will also need to come out into society after her it's imperative that Beatrice makes a good match in marriage. Despite loving her family, Beatrice can't help but struggle against the chains of society, secretly practicing magic and summoning spirits before the inevitable day she will have to wear the collar of marriage. 

"Spiritborn children were the reason for warding collars. Unprotected, a sorceress with child was too great a temptation for a spirit, whose eternity as a disembodied, yet thinking being was dull and lifeless compared to the tether of a mortal body in the material world. And the child's body growing in the womb, with all its fingers, its toes, but no soul yet in residence was the perfect home for such a spirit. They would slip inside that growing body, ready to be born and have the whole world in their hands."

The only thing that could prevent this collaring is her ability to summon a higher spirit. So Beatrice desperately seeks out this knowledge in coded grimoires (books that appear normal to men, but teach women magic), and stumbles across a kindred spirit in a new and very wealthy friend Ysbeta. The two race against the clock to learn how to summon the greater spirit that will save them from arranged marriages, all while attending Jane Austen-like parties with ballroom dancing and calling cards. What an interesting world!

"But she didn't want a duke or a Minister's son. She didn't want to marry a man from another land. She wanted to be a magician, and marriage stood squarely in its way."

I loved the relationship between Ysbeta and Beatrice. It is the true standout relationship of The Midnight Bargain. They challenge and support one another, all while confronting societal norms and practicing magic. The two are so much more than friends, they are rivals, co-conspirators, and confidants. If they are found out, they could lose everything they hold dear. Their friendship and support of one another is truly what feminism is about.

I was less thrilled with Beatrice's blossoming romance with Ysbeta's brother, Ianthe, who was too perfect, and understanding, which made him rather drab. Plus, as a die-hard fan of the slow burn, I was vastly disappointed that Beatrice and Ianthe kissed upon their very first meeting. It would've been so much better if Beatrice had to wonder if Ianthe returned her feelings instead of knowing with certainty that he did. I guess the author figured that the drama or Ianthe being the most eligible bachelor in society was enough, but I never felt any tension about whether the two would end up together, as Ianthe was pretty liberal and clearly the only match for Beatrice--as literally no other man would be at all sympathetic to her views.

Instead of a whole-will-they-won't-they it felt like just a matter of time. After all, the two had already kissed, despite having virtually no conversations. I don't buy for a second that intellectual, spirited Beatrice fell for a man with whom she barely spoke. The entire romance was definitely at odds with the feminist story the author was trying to tell. I was disappointed that The Midnight Bargain dealt with the more typical drama of jealousy, parental disapproval, and what the marriage collar would mean for their relationship, rather than Beatrice shirking the marriage duty all together. 

"Imagine that you were considered too weak-minded and incapable of learning the higher magics, but even that didn't matter, because your worth as a sorceress lies in your womb."

It's really a shame, because all of the potential for a powerful relationship was there, but it wasn't executed well. It was boring and frustrating, since the entire relationship seemed antithetical to what Beatrice actually wanted in life. There was no pivotal moment of Ianthe overcoming societal prejudice and finally accepting Beatrice as a sorceress and helping her or any other kind of tension. He just wanted to help her all along. 

In fact, I much preferred Beatrice's relationship with Ysbeta. And I lamented Beatrice's marriage to Ianthe, because I felt that Beatrice and Ysbeta should have instead traveled the world together, unlocking the mysteries of magic together or helping other society ladies escape the fate of the marriage collar. What a missed opportunity! I was so disappointed that Ysbeta went off on her own to discover lost magics and to record them, while Beatrice just got married and became pregnant after Ysbeta discovered a way to prevent spirit possession in the womb without a collar. I couldn't believe that independent, ambitious Beatrice just settled down, got married, and popped out babies while letting her friend do all of the cool magical stuff. It felt like defeat.

Though The Midnight Bargain presented such interesting moral quandaries, Beatrice never really had to choose between Ianthe and her magic or her magic and saving her family or her magic and having children--three very important dilemmas--she just gets everything she ever wanted with very little issue. It's one thing if a character struggles over the course of a novel or a series and experiences major setbacks, especially with such high stakes, and then obtains their happy ending--then it is earned. To have it all handed to the main character just feels unrewarding, especially when it seems in complete opposition to the themes of the novel. And in this case, it feels cheap, because of the high potential for fallout from both Beatrice's family, society, and from playing with powerful magics. 

"The current system lays all of the restriction, all the responsibility, and all of the burden on sorceresses. Men aren't inconvenienced in any way. They may do whatever they like. For them, the system isn't broken, so why look for a solution?"

Plus, Beatrice's happy ending just didn't feel all that happy to me. After the novel presented men as being such a huge problem, for Beatrice to just end up married with a child and another one on the way felt tone deaf. How is this the happily ever after of a girl who wanted magic and power more than anything? She should have walked away from this relationship with Ianthe. I would have rather had the novel ended with Ysbeta and Beatrice adventuring together, either romantically or platonically, and Ianthe could have visited them or pushed for more rights for women on the side. This would have felt less like a capitulation and betrayal of the ideals of the novel and for what it's women were fighting.

"I have never met a woman who had the luxury of ignoring her husband."

All in all, The Midnight Bargain had some really interesting ideas, but it made poor narrative choices that detracted from the strong feminist ideals of the novel. While an entertaining read filled with magic and an interesting world, I couldn't help but feel that The Midnight Bargain lost sight of what it set out to do, and ultimately fell short of its goals entirely.
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