By: C.J. Polk
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?
I’ve never read anything by Polk before, but I’m going to start. I don’t remember what list I got this book off of or what made me pick it up. I’m so glad I did, though.
The Midnight Bargain has a magic system that involves summoning spirits and carrying them within the sorcerer or sorceress. You have to maintain control over them because they can be like children. The way you progress up their hierarchy involves calling more powerful spirits until you pass a final test. Because spirits are residing within you, women are barred from carrying one during their fertile years because the spirit would take over the unborn child.
Beatrice is a strong sorceress, but her only value is to make an alliance with another family through marriage because of her social station. Her father married up the social ladder and has a complex because of it. Unknown to him, Beatrice has sought magical knowledge using hidden means meant for oppressed women to find. She plans to take the final test so that she can be an asset to him that way. It means that she can never be married, and she’s okay with that decision until she meets Ianthe.
The allegory to birth control in the real world was obvious. Women had to wear collars that suppressed their magic as soon as they were married, and their husbands had complete control over those collars. The ending was exactly what plays out in the real world. It’s frustrating but realistic, and I’m glad Polk went that way. I was on edge through the last half of the book, wondering if Beatrice would find a way to have her cake and eat it too. It was very well done.
Beatrice and Ianthe were great characters. It was easy to see why she would fall in love with him, but he wasn’t so perfect that it was eye-roll worthy. He had a hard time grasping what her issues were, but he tried, which set him apart from others.
I was less of a fan of the two’s sisters. Harriet acted younger than her fifteen years, and Ysbeta was selfish. They weren’t truly horrible, so I didn’t hate them, but they both needed a good slap.
The more I think about this book, the more I love it. It’s not listed as the first in a series, and I’m okay with that. It has a very satisfying ending and, while the world was interesting, I don’t need to read more. However, I will look into the rest of Polk’s catalog, and I hope I enjoy her other books as much as I did this one.