About The Midnight Bargain:
"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?"
The Midnight Bargain is a magical story that weaves together a historical-style setting with some innovative and determined women who are ready to make some changes to their patriarchal society.
The Midnight Bargain follows Beatrice Clayborn, a young woman on the verge of marrying age about to begin the 'bargaining season' in which all of the young ingenues are pursued by eligible bachelors. Beatrice prefers to study magic and has no interest in marrying; she would rather focus on improving her magic to where she can one day assist her father in improving the family's finances in order to provide a better life for her family, especially her sister, Harriet. In this world, however, it is only the men who are able to continue pursuing magic into adulthood, whereas the women are only allowed to learn minor spells and charms in their childhood, before putting the interest aside and eventually donning a magical collar of sorts that completely cuts off their magical abilities.
Beatrice is a headstrong character who meets another equally headstrong woman, Ysbeta, and together the two decide to work together to help each other strengthen their magical abilities. Neither woman wants to marry, although their goals outside of not wanting to marry differ slightly. I found Ysbeta and Beatrice to be a really interesting pair, as on the one hand they held a lot of similar notions about magic and marriage, but on the other hand they also clashed a decent bit in regards to value and personality, and I really appreciated how much contrast Polk created with their characters, showing that women can want to be independent for their own unique purposes, unlike many books that often show women wanting the exact same freedoms from their assigned roles.
In regards to the magic system, I thought that Polk introduced something really interesting with her particularly brand of magic. I'm not sure I fully understand how some of it works, but what I did find exceptionally interesting was the usage and influence of the lesser and greater spirits that were such a big part of the magic process. I would love to learn more specifics about how this magic worked, as I felt that they were explored, but I'd love to see even more examples of how everything worked. There are some really neat dynamics at play that made this a compelling system.
There is some romance in this book that I did find a bit hasty at first, but given how marriage proposals and the like often work in this world (similar to our own historical basis where there is often limited courtship), I found it to be somewhat believable with how fast things would move. I liked Polk's exploration of Beatrice's own navigation into determining how she wanted to live her life and how she would balance (or not balance) love and her passion for magic, which I felt really showcased Beatrice's strong personality and ability to focus on the realities of life--all while holding onto her own dreams, of course.
One of my main problems, however, here were that there were some times especially near the end of the story where I felt as though the themes and messages of feminism and equality were almost hammered into the reader a little too much, but I didn't find this to be too much to where it took away much enjoyment. I don't mind when the messages are clear and easy to understand, but sometimes when the author does such a good job of displaying the message throughout the story they don't need to continue to spell it out for us repeatedly. Still, I sometimes find it hard to feel justified in complaining about hearing a message repeated when it's a valuable one.
I had a lot of fun with this book. I believe it's been classified as a YA fantasy (though do correct me if I"m wrong), but I personally felt as though it could easily be considered adult as well, since the characters felt slightly more mature and it didn't really seem to follow the more typical YA fantasy patterns that I'm used to.
Overall, I've given The Midnight Bargain 4.25 stars! As mentioned, I really enjoyed this one and would love to spread more from Polk set in this world in the future, but I'm also satisfied with the story I got to be a part of.
*I received a copy of The Midnight Bargain courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating or enjoyment of the book.*