The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk
Beatrice Clayborn has a problem. In a world where sorceresses are valued for their womb instead of their magic, she’s in the middle of Bargaining Season. She wants out. She has a Plan, but it involves finding a Greater Spirit and convincing her father she’s worth more as a spinster mage instead of a bride. But when she finds the right grimoire she needs, it’s ripped from her hands by two of the most wealthy people in the country: the Lavan siblings. As Beatrice becomes more involved with the siblings, her purpose becomes less clear. Which path will she choose?
Even our fashion stands in the way of our potential.
OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG
This was amazing and relevant and I loved it!
She coated her grin with sugar and arsenic.
Look, I love CL Polk and I love her fantasy of manners. I love how she ties relevant topics into her fantastical works—in this case, the deferment of women’s power and opportunity in favor of their reproductivity, all wrapped up in respectability politics.
The entire story reads like a horror novel instead of a fantasy one, because the debutantes are being brought to market for wealthy husbands and essentially sold for their magical bloodlines. Once wed, the women are literally shackled and cut off from their power, as the potential for a demon to enter their fetus is too strong to counter. While collared, the women are unable to practice magic, and are left to live a colorless life of child-rearing. Magic is only available once they are past child-rearing age or their husbands have died—and the keys to the collar are wielded by their powerful, magical husbands.
It is a powerful parallel to the reproductive rights battle—who bears the burden of responsibility, the (unwarranted) shame, the cost and the loss of potential career? Women.
While the story focuses solely on the upper class, there are some women who were mentioned, and how they managed to break free of the confines of society.
He had taken a generous dowry and learned that the way to have a small fortune from speculation and investment was to start with a large one.
The story, however, focuses on upper class Beatrice, whose upper class and disowned mother married down for love. Beatrice’s father gets them into hot water after cash grab after cash grab goes (predictably) horribly awry, leaving her pending marriage to whoever the one thing that’ll sink or swim the family, especially as Dear Old Dad put the family even more in debt trying to ensure Beatrice has what she needs to get up to par.
Anywho, I did like the economics of the situation and how it paralleled to 19th century England, and how much of the politics of biology and power were played out within society. And the turning of men’s clubs into chapter houses of magic! Brilliant! I also really enjoyed reading about the Llanderlis (sp??), a country that seemed loosely based on India. And I loved the Lavan siblings, although naive love-struck Ianthe was a little much for me. I much preferred his sister, Ysbeta, who was ace and ambitious and fantastic!
And I loved Beatrice, who was naive and young but knew what she wanted until she was faced with other possibilities. She was put between a rock and a hard place and had to navigate her way through, although luckily she made some friends and strategic alliances along the way. And, of course, I loved Nadi, the lesser spirit. She was annoying at first, but damn she grew on me. #TeamNadi.
“But think how many more inventions there would be, if we freed women from the marriage collar,” Beatrice said. “Imagine how many great minds, how many creative spirits are lost to us because we found a cruel solution to the problem of possession and settled for it.”
So, strong points, which overshadowed all other flaws in this book:
-The sacrificing of potential/power in favor of reproduction
-The skewering of the patriarchy
-Beatrice, who did a lot of growing and adulting
-The economic layout of the world (orchid bust! shipping! industry! infrastructure!)
-The instalove (it grew on me, but I kept wondering what Ianthe saw?)
The current system lays all of the restriction, all the responsibility, and all the burden on sorceresses. Men aren’t inconvenienced in any way. They may do whatever they like. For them, the system isn’t broken, so why look for a solution?
I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review