Review: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Title: The Once and Future Witches
Author: C.L. Polk
Publisher: Redhook Books
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Length: 528 pages
My Rating: ★★★★★
5/5 stars

SUMMARY

“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?”

REVIEW

As mentioned in my review of The Once and Future Witches, I am absolutely loving the way authors this season have tied together magic and women’s empowerment in new ways. The Midnight Bargain takes a more individualized, romantic approach to a similar theme. I absolutely adored it! It’s a rare occasion in which I can pinpoint the exact scene where a book becomes a five star read for me – but in The Midnight Bargain, I already knew from the ballroom scene that I was enamored. This doesn’t mean it’ll be a five-star read for everyone, though. I have read some valid criticisms of the pacing in this book. As a fast reader, I tend to charge through those sections anyway but if you’re a slow reader it may impact your opinion. This spellbinding read did an excellent job portraying that feminism in any world is not black and white – progress has gray areas, and though those gray areas are better than the alternative we can still fight for more. Ianthe was a delightful love interest, and their struggles as a couple felt so real despite being of magical origin. Beatrice and ysbeta were the perfect example of the idea that strong women don’t all have to want exactly the same thing. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for magic and empowerment wrapped up in a world of social politics. Spoiler ahead, but I’m going to highlight the three ‘solutions’ people have to the issue with women and magic in the world of The Midnight Bargain

  1. Permanent Collars

For many women in this world, they are collared as soon as they’re wed.  Typically, these women aren’t even fully grown when they marry: they’re still just teenage girls. Beatrice describes the collar as a light going out. The world becomes gray and drab, and it feels like her soul was sucked out of her body. With this alternative, women have to spend their lives from their teens to past childbearing age (so, somewhere between 30 and 40 years) in this state. Their husbands control their lives and they go through the world as a shell of themselves. 

  1. Pregnancy Collars

In the world’s existing “radical” option, some societies only collar women when they’re likely to be pregnant. Though this is slightly better, the way magic develops in The Midnight Bargain means that a woman could still never become a fully achieved Magus. The collar cuts off their access to the magic, leaving them unable to ever fully bond a greater spirit. 

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  1. Collar-Free

At the end, Beatrice and Ianthe learn that all of these methods existed to erase the actual, existing safe method used in the past. In ancient societies where women were equal, a sorcerer father and sorceress mother would both send their greater spirits to defend the fetus while it grows. In this way, neither spirit would be able to possess it and turn the child into a dangerous creature. By hiding this method and erasing it from common knowledge, men were able to subjugate women and prevent them from ever reaching full equality. By bringing it back into the world, Beatrice gives the choice back to women. I really appreciated this ending, instead of Beatrice coming to terms with sometimes being collared. It did a wonderful job of representing an actual, real-life problem. Just because a society is slightly better to oppressed groups of people doesn’t mean they can’t still improve. 

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Be sure to check out my instagram for some moore bookish posts and photos @paiges_next_pages ! I’ll be doing a giveaway on there quite soon.

Fun Friday: Comparing book covers from different countries

Happy Friday! A quick reading update – this week, I finished Legendborn by Tracey Deonn and just started To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini. I also read an ARC of Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro a while ago which released this week, so I’ll be trying to post a review of that soon! Now if you will, take a moment to consider Middle Earth, the land Tolkien created long ago. Majestic spaces, stunning sites, and merry hobbits living in the Shire. All things considered, the cover of The Hobbit shown below seems quite fitting. I have a similar edition, it’s quite stunning and vibrant in person.

In what I admit was over 22 years of being dumb I never really considered the idea that other covers of The Hobbit might not paint the same picture of majestic natural beauty. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an original Dutch cover of The Hobbit online, covered in fun hobbits that look nothing like I’d imagined! Below, you can drag and compare the two covers. If I was judging a book by its cover, I’d be imagining two entirely different types of book. I think I quite like the Dutch edition though, as it adds a different spirit to the book. This got me thinking: what other books do I love that might sell a different story based on the cover?

  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman
    Scythe is one of my favorite futuristic YA books. It raises a lot of great moral questions without feeling overly heavy or like it’s trying too hard. It flows quite naturally, and the cover represents. that to me. Yes, this book focuses on a lot of death, but it’s not an overly dark book. Shown first is the original United States cover – it’s bright, has a futuristic font, and feels quite mysterious. Shown in the middle is the german edition, published by FISCHER Sauerländer. It’s a lot more eery, though maintains the element of mystery and clearly shows the scythe. On the far right is the Indonesian paperback edition published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama. This one goes fully eery, with a full moon lighting a ghostly scythe’s path. The building surrounding the figure are worn down and cast in shadows, contrasting starkly with the scythe’s glowing white robes. It may be because I’m used to the United States edition, but I think it’s still my preference.
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
    Another of my all-time favorite reads is The Starless Sea. It came out quite recently actually and has a gorgeous cover that feels vintage and new at the same time, with symbolism from the book drawn in black and gold detailing. And yet, each other country I looked at doesn’t have the black and gold color scheme! On the far left is the US edition, with gold keys twined with gray ribbon resting on a black background. The three editions next to it are respectively the Waterstones edition sold in the UK, the Italian edition, and the Canadian edition. Each maintains a semblance of the gold tones present in the US edition, however all three have shades of blue instead of black. The Waterstones edition’s gorgeous gold bee painted over the marbled blue background is, frankly, amazing. I want it so badly now. The Italian edition feels like a vintage journal with the symmetrical design of keys and filigree, and the Canadian edition’s keyhole door revealing a ship at sea stands out from the rest for portraying a scene instead of symbols. Ultimately, though, I am obsessed with that Waterstones edition more than anything. It’s the type of cover that would make me buy the book without reading a description.
  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    The US cover of the wedding date gives me classic romance vibes, with the couple shown in drawn profile and the classic red, black, and white color scheme. Even the handwritten font with little swirls screams rom com – but the international counterparts don’t have that same vibe. The middle edition, published by Hachette UK, takes the cover in a lot more of a contemporary romance direction. Between the San Francisco skyline, the pink sunset fading to purple, and the cutesy flower garland bordering the edges I can’t help but get a much more cool modern feel. Plus, they used that same ‘casual’ calligraphy that’s become a trademark of modern weddings! The Croatian edition on the far right, meanwhile, doesn’t really strike home with me. The chess pieces imply a game, and I don’t think that fits the way the relationship in the book grows. If I’d seen this edition on the shelf I might not have picked it up… but then again, I’m not the target market. I’m not Croatian.
  • Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin
    The edition of Serpent & Dove on the left seems to be cover for all English language editions, and even some foreign language editions. I can see why – the dark feathery background, covered in that metallic gold snake and title, are all over Instagram. It’s a gorgeous book, and even prettier in person on the glossy dustjacket. I figured the alternative covers of Serpent & Dove wouldn’t capture me as much, but dang I do love this Spanish language edition. The title is changed to basically Witch Killer, and has that gothic purple design highlighting two red daggers and a three eyed raven. The small sigils peppered around the cover are a nice final touch. Though it’s a lot less slick than the US cover, there’s something I really adore about the Spanish edition. It feels like a real witch’s grimoire!

Which ones were your favorite? Let me know! Overall, I think I liked US Scythe, Waterstones The Starless Sea, US The Wedding Date, and Spanish language Serpent & Dove.

Have a great weekend & stay safe!