ARC Review: The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk

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?

I haven’t read any of the author’s previous books even though Witchmark has been on my tbr for a while now and I really wanna get to that trilogy. But when I saw the gorgeous cover of this book, I couldn’t resist and I was so happy when I got the ARC. And while I did find it entertaining, it also let me down a bit. 

The writing is easy to breeze through, and the descriptions are quite beautiful, and once I put my mind to reading it, I could finish it in just a few hours. This maybe a fantasy world but it’s very similar to the Victorian England setting we are so used to reading in historical romance, with traditions like debuts, seasons, courting, attending balls, women’s fortunes and most of their rights being tied to either the father or the husband – all with different names and a slightly magical twist that women here are prohibited from becoming Mages and are collared as soon as they get married so that they can’t practice magic. And this is exactly where I felt let down. While the similarity of the setting was a comfort, the magic system itself felt like a plot device. We get to know some of the procedures and rituals involved in how to summon spirits and how people become Mages, but there’s absolutely nothing about how this magic is used in this world, what roles do Mages perform and what roles do the spirits play once they become companions – it all feels like an afterthought. 

The characters are okay to follow along. I kept liking and disliking most of them at different parts of the story, but I mostly did enjoy getting to know them. Beatrice’s struggle in wanting to be both a sorceress and with the love of her life, Ysbeta’s yearning for freedom and knowledge, and Ianthe’s sparkling love for both the women, were all quite lovely to read about and also pretty relatable. But Ianthe was definitely my favorite of the lot because he was open minded and did what he could to protect both the women. I also loved the dynamic between Beatrice and Ysbeta because they started off on an antagonistic note but it transformed into such a wonderful friendship. But I definitely had problems with Beatrice and Ianthe’s instalove – I usually don’t have a problem with the trope but it came on too quick in this one and I couldn’t believe she was thinking about giving up her ambitions after meeting him only a couple of times. 

The side characters didn’t really leave much of an impression, probably because I hated most of them. Except Nadi who was the best part of the whole book and I would love a delightful spirit companion like him too please, who would threaten to hex anyone who made me sad. 

Overall, I did have a good time reading this book but I know it’s not gonna be a very memorable one. Maybe if it had a slow burn romance or if it had expanded on its magic system, I could have loved it more. But currently, it feels like a historical romance with feminist themes which also has some magic as an aside – and if that feels like something you’ll enjoy, do pick it up and have fun. 

PS: Thank you to Erewhon Books and Edelweiss for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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