BINGO – Free (picked up from my local library)
Beatrice Clayborn must get married. She must. Getting married is the only way to save her family from financial ruin. But to get married means that she will have to give up her passion and goals: to become a great mage and the first female mage. Complicating her situation further is Ianthe Lavan, an extremely wealthy, handsome, compassionate man determined to win her hand in marriage, and his sister Ysbeta who wants the same things as Beatrice, to pursue magic, but Ysbeta wants magic no matter the cost. Using her intelligence and her magic, Beatrice must find a way to strike a balance between her pursuit of magic and her duty to her family.
This book has so many really fantastic things going for it. I really enjoyed the magic that Polk created in The Midnight Bargain. Big magic is done with the help of spirits that sorcerers invite into the physical world to aid them: there are spirits of fortune, knowledge, force, and many more. This is the magic of hexing people, lifting people up in the air, seeing the how lucky someone or something is, etc. Small magic, like enchanting a fan to wave in the air or to eavesdrop, is done with simple children’s rhymes. Nearly any one can do the small magic, but the big magic, the ability to see and summon spirits, is a skill that one is born with.
The bargaining season, the time frame in which unwed young women are wooed and courted by men, was also wonderfully and intricately crafted. There were many traditions, norms, expectations, obligations, that it would have been hard to keep up with it all if it weren’t for Beatrice’s younger sister, Harriet, who is obsessed with everything about the bargaining season. She provides excellent commentary on all the goings-on without dipping too heavily into exposition dumping. Harriet is the queen of world-building through admonishments and gossip.
Additionally, I really enjoyed the relationship between Beatrice and Ysbeta. I thought, based on Ysbeta’s introduction and initial characterization, that we were going to get a girl vs. girl catfight through the whole book between the two. Instead what we get is a complicated friendship that is built on understanding each other in ways that no one else in their society could. Their conversations, goals, and actions highlight the social, political, and economic unfairness of the world they live in. They both see these injustices and work together to tear them down.
My one complaint is that the plot was not evenly paced. There were many sections that I tore through because I was so engrossed with the events unfolding. Other times, I couldn’t read more than one or two pages at a time without getting bored and stepping away.
I am big fan of standalone fantasy novels, and this book is exactly that. Things are wrapped up nicely with just a few odd strands to keep the imagination running. I don’t think I want a sequel, per se, but I would love another installation in this universe that follows Ysbeta through her adventures.