Book Review: The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk

Book Review: The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk

 

the midnight bargain

Fantasy: The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk

 

C.L. Polk is creating a unique place in fantasy literature. A little bit modern, a little bit historical, a little bit fantasy, a little bit romance, a little bit social commentary, and ultimately a whole lot of fun.

 

Beatrice Clayborn is the oldest daughter of a socially ambitious but very economically unfortunate merchant. She also aspires to become a mage. She secretly practices magic with the help of coded grimoires, books about magic that have themselves been magically disguised to appear as ordinary tomes to the uninitiated. In one final, desperate hope to surpass their dire financial circumstances, Beatrice’s father has bet everything on one goal: Beatrice finding a rich husband.

 

Marrying carries with it the expectation of bearing children, and that is a major problem for Beatrice’s own ambitions. For reasons that become clear through the book, magical power is very dangerous to unborn children. Not just to the children, but the magic can be fatal to others as well when the unknowing child becomes a conduit for powers beyond their control. Therefore, married women are not allowed to practice magic. They are, in fact, prevented from doing so by a magical locket that is hung around their necks during the wedding ceremony, a locket whose key is given to their husbands. Although some societies do allow women beyond childbearing age to practice certain small magical tricks later in life, Beatrice’s culture does not. When she marries it will save her family. It will also destroy her dreams.

 

The Midnight Bargain is Polk’s second foray into an Edwardian-inspired culture filled with the class distinctions and gender expectations and flouncy dresses and waistcoats that any such novel requires, but with magic. Beatrice is an amazing protagonist. She is fiercely determined to save her family, she is even more determined to practice her magic, and she is desperate to find a third way that allows her to do both.

 

What she absolutely does not expect is to fall madly in love.

 

With the title one might be forgiven for having a little bit of Cinderella deja vu while reading this. I suspect the author was drawing some inspiration from the fairy godmother and poor girl meets Prince Charming parts of the story, but this Cinderella is not waiting for talking mice or enchanted pumpkins to help her out. She knows what she wants and she goes after it. If he is indeed the “man of her dreams,” he will help her get it. If he doesn’t help her, he is not the right man. Although he is handsome and charming and thoughtful and smart and takes her seriously and…no, if he doesn’t help her he is not the right man. Unless….

 

Oh you fickle unpredictable heart!

 

Polk puts Beatrice into a conundrum that is both thoroughly modern and recognizably Edwardian. Follow one’s dreams or follow one’s heart? Save your family or save your sanity? Marry for love or marry the nasty dude who paid all your father’s debts? OK, that last one is not as common today. Still, we see the dilemma facing Beatrice and we are eager to see how she resolves it.

 

Polk is a gifted writer with great stories to tell. The Midnight Bargain is more than just a new take on a popular fairy tale. It is a powerful story of love, strength, and finding your way through a society with different values.

 

Also see:

Book Review: Witchmark, C.L. Polk

 

the midnight bargain

Book Review: The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk

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