From the author of Witchmark comes a fantasy set in a world reminiscent of Regency England, where women's magic is taken from them when they marry. A sorceress must balance her desire to become the first great female magician against her duty to her family.
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 She uses historical fantasy not to simply dismiss outdated mores on sexuality and desire but to engage with the contemporary issues of birth control and parental leave, which remain frustratingly controversial in much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.