The Midnight Bargain is a magical historical book that delves into a deeply misogynistic world and what two women will do to be free of it. Although I was expecting a larger romance focus, I enjoyed the feminist threads and worldbuilding this book brought to the table. If you want a historical book with a bit of magic, or a fantasy book with historical vibes, this one might the book for you!
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?
With all the fun of a historical novel mixed up with fantasy, we follow Beatrice, a sorceress who practices magic in secret. Women aren’t allowed to pursue magic due to their expectation to have children, and children born from magic users are in great danger. Instead, her magic will be locked away from the moment she’s married. With her family down on its fortune there will be consequences if she refuses to find a husband. Joining forces with another sorceress, one of the Lavan siblings, she can’t help but be enticed by her new friend’s brother. If she gives up her magic for marriage, she’ll never be free; if she doesn’t, she could lose everything.
The way the historical and magical aspects were intertwined was seamless and a delight to read about. I loved how Polk tied the misogynistic expectations of history into how magic was treated. On top of that, there were great historical romance tropes including the dynamic of a woman facing financial difficulties who falls in love with a rich man whose family don’t approve.
This book has strong feminist themes, which I really enjoyed. The world is extremely misogynistic and rigid in its gendered expectations; it almost stepped into feminist dystopia territory. What I loved was how it encapsulated the difficulty in wanting more freedom, with struggling against societal expectations, and there being no easy answers. That even people who want to help may not understand the extent of your difficulties.
The characters were fun; I enjoyed a lot of what they had to offer, but they didn’t truly come alive. The relationship’s also seemed slightly underdeveloped. Don’t get me wrong, they were perfectly fun, just not anything more.
The romance was also less of a focus than I was expecting. The marketing campaign for the paperback release has heavily focused on the popularity of Bridgerton, and that made me believe this was going to be more romance forward. In reality, it was essentially a sweet instalove, and although I enjoyed their relationship it didn’t elicit any strong feelings in me.
Overall, The Midnight Bargain was a fun twist on a typical historical novel with the inclusion of a detailed magical world. It featured many of the tropes that make historical books fun and was delightfully feminist, but the character relationships weren’t as strong as I would have preferred.
CW: intense misogyny
(Thanks to Orbit for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)
C. L. Polk (they/them) is the author of the World Fantasy Award winning novel Witchmark, the first novel of the Kingston Cycle. Their newest novel, The Midnight Bargain, is a finalist in the CBC Canada Reads Competition.
After leaving high school early, they have worked as a film extra, sold vegetables on the street, and identified exotic insect species for a vast collection of lepidoptera before settling down to write fantasy novels.
Mx. Polk lives near the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, in a tiny apartment with too many books and a yarn stash that could last a decade. They ride a green bicycle with a basket on the front.
They drink good coffee because life is too short. They spend too much time on twitter. You can subscribe to their free newsletter on TinyLetter, or subscribe to their Patreon for additional content.
Mx. Polk is represented by Caitlin McDonald of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
Get this book
The Midnight Bargain released in the UK on the `15th of April 2021! There’s never been a more perfect time to grab a copy.
If you want to remember to check out this book you should add to Add to Goodreads!
You can order the book from major retail sites including Blackwell’s and Waterstones.
I’d recommend checking out your local indie bookshop! You could also use Hive.co.uk in the UK or Bookshop.org in the UK/US.
2 thoughts on “Historical Romance Meets Fantasy // The Midnight Bargain”
This sounds like it’d be an awesome read. I love historical stuff and I love magic! Colour me sold. 🙂 Excellent review.
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I’m glad you enjoyed the review! Hope you love the book if you pick it up 💕
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