Fantasy Book Review: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Fantasy Book Review

Title
The Midnight Bargain
Author: C.L. Polk
Publication Date: October 13, 2020
Publisher: Erewhon Books
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
ShelvesFemale-authored, Female-fronted

Equal parts historical fantasy and Regency romance, with strong themes of female agency and empowerment, The Midnight Bargain was a beautifully written tale that deftly navigates women's magic and patriarchy. C.L. Polk builds a fabulous world here, familiar enough to be relatable and yet fantastic enough to convey a sense of wonder, populated by three pivotal characters with personality and chemistry between them.

Beatrice and Ysbeta are two young women, born of different classes and different societies, but united in their passion to pursue their dreams of sorcery, even as they're being paraded before the eligible bachelors of Bargaining Season. In many ways, it's a magical sort of commentary on how contemporary women are expected to sacrifice their dreams and careers for marriage, but the threat of a warded collar introduces an element of nauseous dread.

Connecting the two women is Ianthe, a young man who straddles an increasingly greater divide between familial duty, brotherly love, romantic love, and sympathy for the plight of women in their world. He's a progressive young man who listens, who cares, and who is genuinely interested in finding a way to preserve Beatrice and Ysbeta's dreams. He's such a good man, so different from those around him, that we find ourselves trapped in the same dilemma as Beatrice, enthralled by the idea of a near-perfect marriage, one that satisfies both love and duty, and yet knowing it's still a sacrifice she dreads being forced to make.

As much as I loved the exploration of that dilemma, I struggled with a plot twist late in the story that I felt crossed a line. In keeping with the Regency era and the patriarchal society of The Midnight Bargain, I understood the behavior of Beatrice's father up to that point. I didn't like it, and I most certainly didn't agree with it, but within the overall context, I understood it. However, there's a decision he makes to risk not just his daughter's happiness but potentially her life, and that was a betrayal too far for me. It was a deliberate choice that I could not excuse as merely being born of anger or desperation, and it soured me on any possibility for reconciliation. 

That said, his deplorable actions do serve as a catalyst to throw caution to the wind, cast off the weight of social expectations and the collars that await, and commit to a plan born of desperation. I spent so much of the book wondering if/how Polk could possibly deliver a satisfying resolution, the actual finale surprised and delighted me in every way. For all its weighty issues and often deplorable realities of historical patriarchy, The Midnight Bargain is still an amusing and delightful read, one that's full of magic, humor, romance, and thrills, ultimately delivering on the promise of its premise.

Rating: ♀ ♀ ♀ ♀

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