A feminist sorceress fantasy with romantic elements, C. L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain offers a compelling, timely tale of women who are forced to choose between their ability & family/social obligations, & two young women who forge a friendship & resolve to beat the aforementioned system that seeks to imprison them.
In the world of TMB, sorceresses go through a Bargaining Season wherein they are courted. On their wedding day, these women are adorned with a warding collar that suppresses their magic until after they’re done bearing children.
If women aren’t given the collar, male mages argue, spirits will be able to take over any babies they carry in the womb & be born into the material world they crave so much.
Beatrice Clayborn, a merchant’s daughter, wants to keep her magic more than anything.
She learns that she isn’t alone with this hope when she meets Ysbeta, a wealthy woman visiting Chasland with her handsome brother, Ianthe Lavan, a nearly inconceivable catch.
Ianthe comes to want Beatrice for his wife & there’s part of her that wants him too. But both of them know that accepting him, accepting him as her husband, would mean losing her magic & having it under someone else’s control.
While the romance is a nice touch & is even inspiring in some big ways, it also feels superficial in others. It’s not really the highlight of this book for me.
Instead, it’s the world-building & the premise, which feels both creative & original *&* also based on some real-world gender dynamics. After all, the tension set up for women in this book—that of pursuing self or family—doesn’t feel entirely imaginary for most women IRL, & neither does the patriarchal notion that men are entitled to have control over women’s bodies. (Haven’t we seen & heard that before?? ).
Overall, while I didn’t get entirely lost in this story, I did love its trenchant critique of patriarchy & how Polk crafts two young women—& a young man—who are willing to do what it takes to bring it all down.
4 ⭐️. The Midnight Bargain is out today. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
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