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? (Goodreads)
I’ll get to the review in a second – just stop and look at that cover. It’s sooooooooo beautiful. When it comes to pretty covers I’m like Dug the dog in the movie Up when he sees a squirrel. I’m instantly distracted and I need to have it. This cover is gorgeous and I wish more fantasy books would take note that you can create a captivating fantasy book cover without having a person on the cover (*Cough cough* most YA fantasy *cough cough*).
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk is a wonderfully written book with a immersive magical world that, while not as beautiful as the cover, gives it a good try. I was really drawn to this book from the summary and liked the feminist angle being taken on a Regency era fantasy novel. Also, how often do we get Regency era fantasy novels? It was so refreshing to read something in a different period. So, while I did enjoy reading this book, there were some things I loved and other things that fell short.
I did feel like the characters fell flat. I wasn’t very invested in them even though their story was high stakes. Specifically, Ianthe was very one dimensional for me. There was nothing about him that stood out and I had a hard time getting on board with the romance between him and Beatrice. If there’s one trope I cannot stand it’s insta-romances and this was a prime example of one of those. While not as fast as some other books, it was obvious they were in love about 50 pages in. Come on! I know it’s Regency England and people married after two days, but it didn’t fit Beatrice’s character and it was just too damn easy. There was no tension or problems in the relationship other than outside pressures. Everything felt too convenient and it all happened instantaneously. I didn’t feel any build up to their relationship.
I actually found myself rooting for a Beatrice and Ysbeta romance through most of the book as their chemistry was so much better. Also, what a better way to say I don’t want to marry a man and give up my magic than run off and be a Mage and marry a woman? Yeah, literally nothing.
Also, Beatrice wasn’t quite the badass feminist woman I would have expected. She comes off as kind of whiny, selfish, and annoying sometimes and ends up in situations she could have easily avoided if she’d used her head. I think the whole feminist angle would have played out better in this book if told through Ysbeta’s perspective who I found to be a far more interesting character.
On the other hand, I cannot say enough about how much I loved Nadi. From the first page the spirit showed up on I knew she was going to be my favourite. The connection between her and Beatrice was undeniable and I really felt their friendship from beginning to end and loved how that was developed. She was also just genuine fun on the page and I always looked forward to when she showed up.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the pacing of the book. It starts off really slow and stays that way until about two thirds into the story. Then the ending feels super rushed and a bit confusing. And also too easy. Everything just falls into place. The stakes were really high in this book and in the end everything works out perfectly. Don’t get me wrong, I like a happy ending, but this one was too perfect and a bit predictable.
What I did love in this book was the world building and magic system. That’s what captivated me from the start and really held my attention through the entire book. Given that, I wish we had more of the magic and more of the world. I would have loved to get inside a chapterhouse just once and see the magic. But, I did love the magic and how it felt realistic and well-developed. There are scenes where they do magic and Polk gives us exact details of hand movements, vibrations, symbols, everything. A lot of magic books just say ‘and they cast a spell’ and leave it at that. This book had details and the magic lover in me lived for it. It made the magic feel real.
I did really enjoy Polk’s writing. It’s very immersive and she has a handle on dialogue and description that really pulls the reader into the story. I also appreciated the stance on feminism and female body autonomy that was explored in this book.
Overall, it was a good read and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to read it. It was a refreshing fantasy tale unlike anything I have read before. I would recommend it to fans of fantasy or even just Regency era romances looking for a new take on the genre.
Have you read The Midnight Bargain? Are you planning to? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!