I love novels of magical manners, stories that contrast the rigid specificities of humdrum moneyed lives with the numinous wilderland of magic. Polk’s contribution to the genre is smooth and confident, with prose that reads like running a hand over velvet. She uses historical fantasy not to simply dismiss outdated mores on sexuality and desire but to engage with the contemporary issues of birth control and parental leave, which remain frustratingly controversial in much of the world. A sleek, beautiful book with a quietly serious heart.
The Midnight Bargain reminded me why I love fantasy novels, and then wrecked me with its social commentary about a Regency-inspired world ... I loved the book’s drawing room politics, djinn-inspired magic, chosen family, and the way the story didn’t shy away from the heroine’s ambition, and her reluctance to be a wife and mother. I have rarely been quite this satisfied by the resolution of the classic love vs. freedom quandary for women in a restrictive society ... The taut dynamic between Beatrice, Ysbeta, and Ianthe was delicious to read ... The taut dynamic between Beatrice, Ysbeta, and Ianthe was delicious to read ... I appreciated the depiction of class dynamics that gave wealth and social power to a few women, while offering the ability to work (magic) to working class women with less social power. Perhaps my favorite part was how the book’s magical restrictions on women made me think about contemporary social restrictions to 'protect' women ... Which brings me to The Midnight Bargain’s main flaw; not punishing Beatrice’s dad enough for my bloodthirsty little heart ... loved the sisterhood of sorcery in this book, and how the romantic conflict kept me guessing without overshadowing the friendships. Readers who like cultural worldbuilding with a feminist lens, and don’t mind a quick romantic connection that takes most of the book to resolve, might like The Midnight Bargain.
If you’ve read Jane Austen, Polk’s novel will feel familiar ... Polk plays in historical settings of opulence and industry without ignoring the oppressions that facilitate that opulence and industry. Her closest literary cousin besides Jane Austen is probably Zen Cho. Both found the gaps in Austen’s work (and the subsequent deluge of remakes and adaptations) and filled them with meditations on racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, colonialism, and queerphobia ... I relished how Polk (and Cho) expanded on Austen’s work. No, not expanded: enhanced. She makes explicit what her predecessor left implicit or didn’t even consider in the first place ... It’s tempting to want to breeze through The Midnight Bargain. It has a clever conceit and a charming style that makes you want to sit down and read the whole thing in an afternoon. However, I recommend not doing that. Slow your roll and really savor the words, the characters, the story. This is a novel begging for a second or third read-through to pick up the nuances and whispered references you missed the first time around. If this is your first time reading something by C. L. Polk, know that she is a deliberate writer, a writer who plays with subtext and subtlety; what she doesn’t say is just as important as what she does. Let yourself sink into her story and you’ll come out of it with a richer experience and deeper understanding. I’ve only scratched the surface here. I’d need a thesis dissertation to discuss everything in the book ... .L. Polk has already become one of my favorite authors of historical fantasy fiction. The story is old and new at the same time, full of classic tropes done in invigoratingly original ways. There are a lot of must-reads this fall in speculative fiction, and The Midnight Bargain is near the top of that list.
Polk’s 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.
... delightfully addresses the theme of a woman’s right to choose inside a fantasy novel. The potency of the theme and the strength of the characters outweigh any weaknesses in the worldbuilding, making this a satisfying read.
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. The tropes of the story are such that we have a reasonable expectation that Beatrice will somehow find a way to realize her dreams, however paradoxical they seem in her milieu, but the author does a nice job of ratcheting up the tension and places enough obstacles in her protagonist’s way that the reader might almost believe that failure is possible. The resolution therefore feels well earned and is pleasingly served with a righteous blow at the smugly complacent preservers of the status quo ... An expertly concocted mélange of sweet romance and sharp social commentary.
Polk delivers sharp social commentary in this excellent Regency-flavored fantasy ... Polk expertly balances propulsive pacing, a rich multicultural world, and a vivid and subversive cast of characters. Readers will be swept away by this powerful and passionate fantasy.