If I had read this a few years ago, when I hadn’t quite reached the “FED UP” stage, I would have loved it. I can recognize the skill that went into this book – Polk knows exactly what they’re doing, and does it tremendously well. I will definitely seek out more of their books, but I hope there are some solidly sci-fi stories, because I don’t think I can handle more historical fiction like this.
In the world of Midnight Bargain, magic exists, and people are born with various levels of magical skill. It’s a Regency romance type setup, with young ladies being put on display for ‘bargaining season,’ and the men pick out their wives. The trick is that the magic is based off of partnership with (or favors from) spirits, and if a sorceress gets pregnant, wicked spirits can take over the baby and wreak havoc once they’re born. So when a woman gets married, she is fitted with a magic-dampening collar that she has to wear until menopause. During bargaining season, the men are looking for wives with powerful magic ability, because they want to pass it on to their
children sons, but the women themselves won’t be allowed to use their magic again until they’re past child-bearing age.
Beatrice is a powerful young sorceress who doesn’t want to give up her magic. She wants to partner with a spirit of fortune to help her family regain their fortunes (her family has only two daughters, and their father has made some bad investments). Her father, however, wants to marry her off to a rich man and restore the family that way. Beatrice doesn’t want to marry; she wants to be a mage – until she meets Ianthe. Ianthe and his sister Ysbeta are from a powerful, rich family. Ysbeta is also in her bargaining season, and her family has her husband all picked out. Beatrice and Ysbeta discover they have similar goals (more magic, fewer husbands) and start to practice more complicated spells and summonings. Ianthe is handsome, wealthy, interested in Beatrice, kind, and open-minded enough to listen to her mad ideas that women can have their own thoughts and plans and might not want to get married and have babies. But he’s still a man, and she’d still be collared if she married him.
There’s also a younger sister, Harriet, who is totally season/book 1 Sansa, where all she sees is the romance and the dancing and the outfits and the wooing, and doesn’t understand why Beatrice doesn’t want that. It adds a layer of guilt to Beatrice’s decision – marriage vs. magic – because if she destroys her family by not doing what society wants, Harriet will never get her own bargaining season that she’s so looking forward to.
The characters are well done, and I really liked Beatrice. This happens on page 10, so you know Beatrice is one of us:
She snapped the book shut and fought the joyful squeak that threatened to escape her. She stood very still and let her heart soar in silence with the book pressed to her chest, breathing in its ink and magic.”
Polk uses tropes well, hitting all the expected notes you’d get in a Regency romance, but using them to twist the knife that much further. I was expecting a happy, triumphant ending, because…no sensible reason, just because I figured the universe wouldn’t do that to me. The writing is great (even though I didn’t care about all the old-timey fashion stuff – although even that served a purpose, with the ladies’ stays and literal cages under their dresses hindering them from doing magic).
I couldn’t finish Bridgerton, even after all the internet was aflutter about it, because PATRIARCHY. It made me so angry to see the younger girls not understanding how pregnancy happened, and how the men were allowed to go do whatever they wanted but being alone in a garden with a man would ruin a woman forever, and how the only worth a woman had was tied to her husband and children. I don’t care how hot that guy is, I couldn’t do it. This book felt like that, only worse, because it was so much smarter. Bridgerton (the show, at least – didn’t read the books) felt like it was trying to be fluff. Midnight Bargain felt like it was trying to make you think, and make you mad, and holy hell it succeeded. Yes, we’ve come so far since women weren’t allowed to own property or wear pants, and that’s swell. But we’ve got so much further to go, and I am so tired of being angry. We should not still be fighting for women’s rights and civil rights and human rights and sorceresses’ rights. People are not going to stop being mean and stupid, I understand, but it feels like if Beatrice were transported to the here and now, she should not have this many people left to hex.