The Midnight Bargain

- C.L. 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?



The carriage drew closer to Booksellers’ Row, and Beatrice Clayborn drew in a hopeful breath before she cast her spell.


enjoyable/easy to read:
The Midnight Bargain started promising but outpaced its potential about halfway through. I am all in for a feminist toppling of a patriarchal magic system, but at some point, more action and less talk may be required.

The abusive undertones throughout the Clayborn family were incredibly hard to disregard. Why Beatrice would want to save her father after everything he has done and continues to do is disgusting. He is a weak man who gambled away his status symbol and sees no problem selling off his daughter to fix his problems. The gaslighting and outright manipulation that Beatrice makes offhand comments about show a childhood and adolescence rife with love bombing and withholding behaviour. The utter disregard for her desires could be overlooked – this is basically a high fantasy version of Regency England, and women don’t have a purpose beyond marriage and childbearing – but his actions near the end are horrific.
Selling her off to a man openly admitting he hates her and will abuse and restrain her when another man offers the same payment to allow her to live freely and unwed. That’s not only abusive; it’s diabolical. It’s downright evil. And this is her father!
I didn’t have a much higher regard for Beatrice’s sister, though I would hope that most of her bad judgment comes from her youth and not from a darker, sadistic streak. The way she holds Beatrice’s secret over her head, ready to divulge it for any reason, so that she can force Beatrice to dress and act a certain way – sounding a little familiar? The only Clayborn family member that deserves any loyalty is Beatrice’s mother. Beatrice may have a few of the same problems as the rest of her family because if she thinks of her mother at all, it tends to be with apathy. That is until her mother’s problems might become her own. The misplaced loyalty, lack of repercussions, or even acknowledgment of wrongdoing rubbed me the wrong way and took some of the shine off of The Midnight Bargain.

With that all out of the way now, I loved Nadi. From the first ball, Nadi was fun, impulsive, and a much-needed breath of lightness and spontaneity. Beatrice got a little wound up in her goals and her purpose and would’ve talked herself into spirals for days if someone wasn’t around to break the cycle and redirect her focus. For this, I also appreciated Ysbeta.

The romance was a little too heavy on the instalove and had some good aspects that shouldn’t have had to be good aspects. Respecting women as people and allowing them to have aspirations and education should not be as remarkable as it was in The Midnight Bargain (and sadly in our own world). Ianthe may have been a bit of a dud, in my opinion, but at least he falls on the right side of history. Ysbeta was a much more aspirational character. Her fire to be free and independent, to learn and to educate others, to seek knowledge and spread awareness rang true and spoke volumes. Yes, coming from a position of privilege (she owns a freaking ship), it’s a much easier goal, but it shouldn’t discount her very difficult journey.

I appreciated the ‘realistic’ ending (I mean, it is Regency fiction masquerading as high fantasy – most of the last fifty pages or so wouldn’t have happened), even if it was a little rushed. Overall The Midnight Bargain was incredibly well written. This world and its magic system never seemed to be fully explained, but Polk has a talent for giving just enough detail to allow for comprehension.


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