So much of being a woman—the concept, not the lived experience—revolves around the question of having it all. This question has always pissed me off because it is largely assumed that women will always take care of the home and the children. Having a career is seen as extracurricular, especially in the past. I never thought that I would see this question play out in a fantasy novel. In C.L. Polk’s deeply satisfying novel, The Midnight Bargain, protagonist Beatrice very much does not want to have it all. She wants magic, which has traditionally been forbidden to women in her world. But then she meets the man who could be her true love and Beatrice has to figure out her answer to the question of having it all, all over again.
Magic is the domain of men in Beatrice’s world. Women can do magic but, if they do so while pregnant, it can cause huge problems with their children. So women are warded from the day they marry until a year after they stop menstruating, unless they live in a more liberal country that allows women to take their warding collars off when they decide to stop having children. Beatrice, unfortunately, lives in a country where women are warded until a year after they stop menstruating. The very thought of the collar horrifies Beatrice. So she spends all her free time studying magic in secret, looking for a way to help her family make money in a way that doesn’t involve marrying a wealthy man.
This background simmers underneath a plot that feels very Austenian, but with magic. In fact, we meet Beatrice on the way to a dress fitting while she’s working a spell to find a new book of magic. The spell leads Beatrice to a bookshop where she runs into a very wealthy young woman on the same mission. The very wealthy young woman is accompanied by her handsome brother, just to make things even more like a Jane Austen novel. It turns out that the two young women are even more alike than their circumstances might lead people to believe because, like Beatrice, Ysbeta is also adamant that she will not marry and will pursue magic.
I loved every page of The Midnight Bargain. I loved the blend of magic and manners, love and laments, and other alliterative pairings of delightful things. Seriously, this book was a treat. I plan on buying my own copy so that I can reread it when I need a dose of comfort. Even though this book firmly tackles the hard question of women and their choices and sacrifices, the answer the novel arrives at is thoroughly, perfectly satisfying.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.