Content notes fpr C.L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain: sexism, violence, death (off-page)
- In the world of this novel, women are collared upon marriage to suppress their magic, they are thus also excluded from certain aspects of life
Representation: BIPOC characters, aroace coded character
Oh, I liked this! I just recently reread The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk because I wanted to write this review but couldn’t find my notes on the book anymore. I only knew I enjoyed reading it and after finishing it for a second time now, I can say with absolute certainty that I actually really liked it a lot. Maybe even more than C.L. Polk’s magical Edwardian fantasy trilogy, The Kingston Cycle.
The stand-alone novel The Midnight Bargain is a Regency-esque fantasy romance, set in a world where the elite negotiate marriages with the intent of securing not only titles or trade agreements but also making sure that the match will produce children with vast magical powers. Magic, however, is a matter for gentlemen only. While it is important for genteel women to have magical ability, they are not trained in it and are actually downright forbidden from using it – because magic in this world, at least the higher, more complex kinds, rely on making deals with spirits and letting those spirits into your body and since unborn children don’t have fully formed souls yet, the spirits can take them over. To avoid that, women in Chasland are forced to wear marriage collars – metallic constructions that keep them from accessing their powers and spirits from entering their or their unborn children’s bodies.
Protagonist Beatrice Clayborn has prodigal magical abilities but she is also expected to marry and secure her family’s future and solve their financial troubles. What little resources they have left have been spent to give her a chance to secure a husband during this year’s Bargaining Season. But Beatrice has no interest in marriage, instead she wants to become a Magus and use her abilities to help her family’s business.
What follows is a fantastic feminist romance as Beatrice struggles with trying to figure out her future, meets the love of her life (and yes, it’s insta-love, which is yuck but still fun), makes a friend and uncovers magical secrets. It’s fun, it’s intense and it’s sometimes a bit of a bumpy ride but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Beatrice is a great character, despite the insta-love, whose struggles felt very relatable and while I’ve seen some people call her selfish, I felt like she really was just trying to get the rights that have been kept from women in Chasland. The other characters, Beatrice’s family and the Lavan siblings, Ianthe and Ysbeta, unfortunately remain a bit flat but are intriguing nevertheless – and I really wish there was a spin-off about Beatrice’s sister Harriet and her sister-in-law Ysbeta, both of whom could be really interesting.
All in all though, I very much enjoyed The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk and it’s fantastical take on Regency romances. The magic system in Chasland is intriguing, the societal implications that come with it make for a great backdrop for this feminist love story. As I said, I’d love some spin-offs to learn more about the other cultures that exist in this world but the novel works perfectly well as a stand-alone.
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