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Choosing Between Love and Magic in C.L. Polk’s The Midnight Bargain

Excerpt from C.L. Polk's 'The Midnight Garden'

In World Fantasy Award-winning author C.L. Polk’s upcoming novel, The Midnight Bargain, Polk creates a rich alternate Regency universe where the use of magic and the rights of women are headed for a tense showdown. When a woman marries, her magic is taken away from her to ensure safe childbearing. So what do you do if you want to become the first great female magician against the wishes of your family—and you also just might be in love?

These are the obstacles facing our spirited, strong-willed heroine Beatrice Clayborn, a secret magic-user who dreads the day that she will be locked into a “marital collar” that cuts off her powers. Beatrice’s debt-ridden family is relying on her to make a successful match, but Beatrice dreams of becoming a Magus and practicing advanced magic just as men do. Everything veers all the more complicated when she falls into the orbit of the handsome, kind, and wealthy Ianthe Lavan, who just might change how she feels about romance. Even if he is the brother of her adversary.

Beatrice looked to the sky, finding the brightest star among them. She gathered her power and wove it around Ianthe’s, sending her wish to Heaven: Skyborn Gods, tell me how I can be happy when you have sent me this terrible choice? Who do I save: my family, or myself?

An hour ago, the only thing she wanted was magic. An hour ago, she didn’t know what it felt like to look at a man and have her heart leap. She’d never dreamed that she would capture the attention of such a highly placed gentleman, or that she would thrill to his attention, his politeness, his respect.

“What did you wish for?” Ianthe asked.

“That’s secret.”

Polk whisks us through lavishly ornate rooms in fashionable townhouses, populated by elegantly coiffed people—if you love Regency books and mannered dramas, The Midnight Bargain is for you. But the book is also full-blown fantasy, with subversive worldbuilding and a layered, realized system of magic that is also bound up in the rights of women and their ability to control their own bodies. These themes are as timeless and essential today as in any era. “Women should have a voice in their futures, and her decisions and her decisions alone matter when it comes to how she will use her own body,” Beatrice says.

Further, issues of class and privilege, and a world built on buried secrets and resistance underneath its buttoned-up veneer make The Midnight Bargain a compelling and surprising read. Polk’s prose is crisp and clearly wrought, and the book is difficult to put down. You will be swept up in its deep emotional peaks and valleys, its page-turning revelations and adventures, and you, like Beatrice, will want to marry Ianthe Lavan. Luckily, you face an easier choice than our heroine. You can make The Midnight Bargain your own on October 13, 2020.

(image: Erewhon Books)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.