I was looking for some escapism when I encountered the blurb for this offering, so I was delighted to be approved for a copy of this one.
BLURB: 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?
REVIEW: Beatrice is a desperate young woman, who dreads losing her magical power once she is married and forced to wear a collar that will subjugate her abilities in order to protect her unborn children. Her dream is to become a ‘thornback’ – a spinster who will keep in touch with her magic so that she can advise her father in his investments and help him regain the family fortune that he recklessly squandered on an ill-advised get-rich scheme to popularise orchids. However, her father’s idea is to take advantage of her sorcerous talent and set her up to make an advantageous match that will help restore the family and open more doors for her ambitious younger sister, Harriet. And he won’t hear of Beatrice’s alternative ideas that will allow her to keep in touch with her magic.
She isn’t alone in her yearning to hold onto her talent – Ysbeta Lavan is in a similar hard place and when they find themselves vying for the same information, Beatrice undertakes to help Ysbeta attain the same skills that she has managed to finesse. Unlike Beatrice, Ysbeta’s mother is wholly unsympathetic to her daughter’s hopes. Beatrice, in particular, takes some jaw-dropping risks that pulls down some unwelcome attention. I teetered on the edge of continuing, as I began to feel that the story was becoming unrealistic with some of the stunts she pulls. But fortunately Polk managed to bring the story to a suitable conclusion. The pacing is a tad uneven, particularly near the end, where it suddenly speeds up. But I enjoyed the ending, which wrapped everything up satisfyingly, and found the world and the magic wholly convincing. I just wished I’d liked Beatrice more, but some of the risks she took were stupid and monumentally selfish, as she wasn’t just risking her own life – but also pulling others into harm’s way.
That said, I found the story engrossing and largely enjoyable and I’ll definitely be tracking down more of Polk’s writing. Recommended for fans of Regency-style fantasy romances. While I obtained an arc of The Midnight Bargain from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
Excellent review, Sarah. I have been meaning to read this, its been put in the US for a few months, and now its definitely back on my radar😁
Thank you, Tammy. It is a powerful, memorable story – and Beatrice’s desperation is very effectively portrayed.
The idea of the collar to rein in the women’s magic looks like an interesting way to comment on the limited choices afforded in real life to women of the past centuries… Intriguing, indeed! 🙂
Yes – it’s a powerful depiction of just how hampered women are. Particularly as it becomes clear during the book that there are other ways of helping magically talented women to protect their unborn children, rather than shutting off their access to magic by putting a collar on them.
This was a pleasant read for me despite all the problems ye mention here. However, over time the problems have stood out from the rest and lessened what I think about it. Excellent review!
x The Captain
Thank you, Cap. I think, looking back, part of my slight reservations are because of the rather rushed ending. Which is a bit of a shame, because there’s a great deal to like and admire about the writing. I’m definitely going to give this author another go.
I am not adverse to reading more from the author but will read reviews first and not request an Arc.
x The Captain
Wonderful review Sarah. I have seen a few reviews of this book and was wondering about it. It sounds like a wonderful story and I am glad you enjoyed it.
Thank you, Carla:). I did enjoy it and I’ll definitely be looking out for books by Polk in the future.
Wonderful review! I really enjoyed this one. I think Beatrice had to think of herself as no one else did. I think she struggled with her decisions as neither choice seemed workable.
Anne – Books of My Heart
Oh yes, I completely agree that Beatrice was in the hardest place – but I found her constant risk-taking left me feeling far less sympathetic to her. I think Polk crafted her to be someone who took those risks as she couldn’t bear the thought of life without magic. But I did have a problem with it, nevertheless:)).
I think this book got nominated for one of the major SFF awards recently? Mythopoeic Awards, perhaps? I really mean to read it this year, have heard such good things about it. Thanks for the great review!
It has made the shortlist for this year’s Nebula Awards – which is quite a thing… And which I neglected to mention! I hope you get around to it, as it is an entertaining and quite punchy read:))
We’re reading this for our Romance and Feminist book clubs on r/fantasy this month. I really loved it, I have very strong feelings on women being required to have children, so my anger was always right there with Bea which probably made me overlook some of the flaws. I also read it really quickly which makes me usually miss pacing issues, I was really happy with the ending.
I strongly rec Polk’s Kingston Cycle, it’s got the same mix of historical, romance and injustice. I just reviewed the 3rd one yesterday and it was my favorite on the 3, the second one I wasn’t so sure about because the main character isn’t someone I liked.
Thank you for the recommendation regarding the Kingstone Cycle – I’m on a roll with reading historical fantasy at present so any tips are welcome! And I agree – the message is really strong and Bea’s dilemma is effectively portrayed. Perhaps I haven’t taken into account her absolute panic at the prospect of losing her magic, sufficiently. But I do get a tad tired of heroines who continue to take crazy risks for the sake of keeping the plot lively and action-packed. She’s definitely an author who has made an impression – I’ll be looking out for more work from her:).
Aha! Would you believe I’m looking at this book’s first chapter for my podcast this week? We’ll see if I’m keen to continue it after that first chapter is done…
I must catch up with your podcast! But I need to pace myself… I have to limit my time online as I tire so very easily right now. So frustrating!!! And I look forward to discovering what you decide to do regarding this book:))).
Hey, do NOT tire yourself out, my friend! I’m just thankful you’re on the mend and doing okay. We’ll all find our rhythms again in time! xxxxxx
Thank you for your kind reassurance, Jean. May was utterly grim – but I’m hoping that things are finally improving. I’m looking forward to catching up with you and yours in the coming weeks:)).
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I have a copy of this and so I’ve noted your issues but 8/10 is still very encouraging.
Oh yes! There is a great deal about this book to enjoy and admire, Lynn. I’d certainly recommend it. And I’m aware that my opinion is completely subjective – there are a lot of reviewers out there that have absolutely loved this one and have thought that Bea’s behaviour is entirely understandable under the circumstances.