This is the year feminist witches are taking over fantasy! This week alone has seen not only the publication of the excellent The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (see my review here) but also of The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk. Discussing similar questions of women and independence, these books however take an utterly different approach: where The Once and Future Witches is all revolution, The Midnight Bargain is a softer book, focussing more on the individual impact of magic and romance.
I received an eARC of The Midnight Bargain via NetGalley, but all opinions are my own. Many thanks to NetGalley and Erewhon Books!
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
RELEASE DATE: 13/10/2020
SUMMARY: 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? (from Erewhon Books)
OPINIONS: So, this took me a little bit to actually get into, but as soon as I did, I could not stop reading. C. L. Polk’s writing is utterly addictive, the world she builds is delicious with detail (although, as a woman who decidedly can not keep quiet and would very likely learn magic, I do not want to visit). If I had to compare it to anything, it reminds me of Mary Robinette Kowal’s early books, though it’s been a few years. As this is the first of Polk’s books that I’ve read, I very much want to go and read the rest now!
The characters are just as well-crafted. With a book such as The Midnight Bargain, it would be easy enough to present Beatrice and her companions as archetypes, falling into tropes of traditional romance. However, Polk manages to craft them into multi-dimensional, flawed, determined characters – well, except maybe for a certain so-called gentleman, where I really can not see any ulterior considerations other than selfishness. They are a joy to read, suffer and worry with, and it is such a relief for the book to come to a satisfying conclusion as is demanded by the genre (despite everything, it is still romantic fantasy).
All in all, I really enjoyed The Midnight Bargain and would highly recommend it. I don’t think it’ll quite make my list of all-time favourites, but I think its likely that I’ll reread it as a comfort read. It is the perfect kind of book to curl up with on a cold autumn night, with a cup of tea… Add it to your Goodreads here, and order a copy from Waterstones here!