The Midnight Bargain - book cover
Women's Fiction
  • Publisher : Erewhon
  • Published : 07 Dec 2021
  • Pages : 384
  • ISBN-10 : 164566029X
  • ISBN-13 : 9781645660293
  • Language : English

The Midnight Bargain

From the bestselling, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Witchmark comes a sweeping, romantic new fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Regency England, where women's magic is taken from them when they marry. A sorceress must balance her desire to become the first great female magician against her duty to her family.

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?

Editorial Reviews

"The author's penetrating social critique and deeply felt depiction of one woman's struggle for self-determination are balanced by her charming take on classic Regency romance…. An expertly concocted mélange of sweet romance and sharp social commentary." -Kirkus (starred review)

"Polk's (Witchmark) foray into a society of magic and politics places the woman in the secondary role, but neither Beatrice nor Ysbeta will stay in place. Fans of romantic fantasy set in a multicultural world will find this a fascinating read." -Library Journal (starred review)

"Smart, sexy, and sincere, The Midnight Bargain is an alter-Regency romance with fantastical magic and very real teeth." -Alix E. Harrow

"From page one, C. L. Polk displays an elegant mastery of form. The Midnight Bargain is by turns charming and wrenching." -Mary Robinette Kowal­

"A rich banquet of a novel with vivid details, smart dialogue, and a cleverly unfolding examination of what it means to be denied the destiny you know you are meant for-and how to fight for change." -Kate Elliott

"The Midnight Bargain is a delicious mix of forbidden magic and social ritual, with dangerous secrets, impossible choices, coded grimoires, and stolen kisses dressed up in a sensory feast of fancy carriages and corset stays. It's Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, with two brilliant clandestine sorceresses up against the patriarchy!" -Melissa Caruso

"A lush, intensely romantic and intensely political book about love, friendship, freedom and magic." -Aliette de Bodard

"An absolute dream-at once sparkling and romantic, delightfully magical, and deeply thought-provoking. This book is a fantastical homage not only to the balls and matchmaking and strong-minded heroines of Regency romances, but the questions of gender, class, family obligation and personal ambition that lie at their beating heart." -H. G. Parry

"I was utterly charmed.... It's the perfect blend of fantasy and romance." -Kat Howard

"A sparkling, incisive, and razor-sharp fantasy of manners. A must read for anyone who loves stories where romance and fantasy meet." -Tasha Suri

"Seamlessly blends Regency class issues, subversive intrigue, and fantasy together in a heart-racing seaside romance where everything hangs in the balance. Polk's magical elements are so integral to the romantic plot that the two are inextricable, much as all of the characters, from the leads to the seamstresses, now have a firm place in my heart. I loved every intricate inch." -Fran Wilde

"World Fantasy Award winner Polk (Witchmark) delivers sharp social commentary in this excellent Regency-flavored fantasy.... Polk expertly balances propulsi...

Readers Top Reviews

V. O'ReganRosie BAli
‘Nadi, you will wear a fine gown. You will dance. You will eat cake. You will see starlight. You will have a kiss by midnight, and then our bargain is done.” ‘The Midnight Bargain’ by C. L. Polk is a delightful historical fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Regency Britain complete with lovely gowns, strict social etiquette, and the rest - yet also with hereditary magic and grimoires. Its lead is Beatrice Clayborn, a young woman who is forced to practice magic in secret. While magic is accepted in this world, women with magical talent are restricted to learning simple charms, their only worth is to become compliant wives and bear magically gifted sons. Beatrice is about to take part in the Bargaining Season, where magically gifted ingenues are paraded before prospective husbands at soirées and balls. Beatrice is aware that on her wedding day she will be locked into a warding collar that will cut off her power. Yet Beatrice does not want to marry and dreams of becoming a full-fledged mage. However, her family are in severe debt, and only her making a good marriage can save them. When Beatrice discovers a grimoire containing the key to becoming a mage, Ysbeta, a rival sorceress, is also determined to have it and out of deference to Ysbeta’s higher social station, Beatrice yields. However, she almost immediately regrets it and decides to summons a lesser spirit to help her retrieve the book. Her new ally demands a price: Beatrice's first kiss . . . with the sorceress's brother: the handsome and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan. I have always loved Regency romances and add to the mix magic and social issues linked to women’s rights and I was completely hooked from start to finish. I especially adored Nadi, the lesser spirit that Beatrice summons. She brought a delightful element of comedy into the story. Overall, I thought Polk’s writing was excellent and that she created a world that I found myself deeply immersed in. I plan on reading more novels by C. L. Polk and hope that she will return to further explore this rich world.
E. Day
In Chasland, marriage means a warded collar that stifles a sorceress’s magic to nothingness, all in the name of protecting the woman. An unwarded married female could become pregnant and a spirit could inhabit the child before it became ensouled. Beatrice wants to be a mage, but her family’s survival depends on her marrying well. Without a favorable marriage, the mortgage her father took out will come due; not only will her family be homeless but the scandal will cost her sister, Harriet, any chance at a season and a match. Beatrice is sure that if she’s able to become a mage, her father will relent and all will be well. Her search for a grimoire that will aid in her quest has her crossing paths with Ysbeta and Ianthe Yavan, 2 very rich Llanandarians in town for the season. What starts as a grudging friendship with Ysy soon becomes sisterhood as the both work to become mages before the collar clamps shut. This is a great novel about sisterhood and empowerment. Both women want their freedom and they also can’t stomach it not happening for both of them. They support rather than sabotage each other. They take risks for each other and comfort the other when painful things happen. Because of their commitment to each other, the pair are able to persevere in the face of what looks like defeat and end up happy in the end. Their ending isn’t exactly what they expected, but it’s both encouraging and satisfying. The novel proclaims the feminist beat without being preachy or obnoxious. Beatrice’s arguments to keep her magic are reasonable and her struggle over the choice of her dreams versus marriage and love is well done. Her love interest, Ianthe, is the best kind of hero because he’s handsome, dashing, and not threatened by Beatrice being an empowered woman. Rather, he’s charmed by Beatrice’s audacity to have her own opinion about things, even when it contradicts his own. Never once does he take her hesitancy to marry or her ideas of what a sorceress should be able to do as an insult or threat to his manhood. He actually listens, considers and alters his opinions when he realizes that they don’t conform to his convictions about the place of women in society. While Ysy’s parents are pushing her to marry, Ianthe works to find a way she can escape an unwanted fate. He also loves Beatrice enough to help her even when it means possibly losing her. The story took a bit to get going, but once it did, it had me to the last page. I’d love to see what happen pens next for them, but the story doesn’t feel unfinished. I definitely am glad I read it. 4.5 stars out of 5.
Mary Soon Lee
This is a novel of fantasy, feminism, frocks, and flirtation. It combines a strong dose of Jane Austen (one of the towns is even named Meryton, just as in Pride and Prejudice) with a generous dollop of magic. It succeeds in this well enough to have been nominated for the Nebula Award for the best fantasy novel of 2020. I found it a fun, fast reading pleasure. I liked Beatrice, the heroine, and, among the supporting cast, I especially liked Nadi. The resolution is adroitly managed and pleasing. Spoilers ahead. While I very much enjoyed Ivanthe, the romantic interest, I note that he's no Mr. Darcy. Where Mr. Darcy riveted me with his initial arrogance, Ivanthe was sweet from the start. N.B. It delighted me that Polk clearly establishes that Ivanthe is dark-skinned and strikingly handsome. Two other notes. Firstly, I found the heroine's father sufficiently repellent that I was rooting for him NOT to reconcile with the heroine at the end. Secondly, I wished Clara had been given a little more space in the novel, and, in particular, that we'd seen Beatrice being kinder to her early on. Thoroughly enjoyable. 4 out of 5 beautifully-dressed stars.
Lovely ideas but with poor actual world building. The characters are thinly drawn and hard to connect with. I love the idea of a strong female character who has to choose between love and magic but there is no subtlety in how this struggle is depicted. Instead the main character gives us repeated, on the nose, speeches about how constrained she is as a woman in her society. Very tedious after a while. The author seems to be unfamiliar with the idea that she should show us these themes in action and not just tell us them ad nauseum. Do not recommend this book.
L. Peterson
The story is engaging and I’ll update my review when I’ve finished it, but my issue is the printing and binding of the book itself. This book is well over 300 pages, so I’m sure the paper was at least partially chosen to keep it both small enough to be carried and inexpensive enough to actually be accessible, but despite being a hardcover it has the thin, pulpy pages usually reserved for mass market paperbacks. Mine is printed two visibly-different kinds of paper and one seems a bit more see-through than the other. You should buy this book. You should read it. It’s well-written and I was smiling by the dedication, but if it hadn’t been so discounted on Amazon I would be really bothered by basically everything about the way the actual physical object was produced (which is no fault of the author). If you’re someone who does Kindle, this might be one that’s worth skipping a physical copy of.