The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk is a YA fantasy published in 2020. I listened to this on audiobook and ended up giving it 2 stars.
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 really like the idea of this book but the actual book didn’t work for me. The setting is good and so was the writing. I listened to the audiobook and that was well done as well. The characters were set up well and really the whole story was. I was totally on board for about the first half of the book. But by the end, I didn’t care at all and was glad it was over.
I think the main reason this story didn’t work was the magic system. Yes, I get that the collars or anything that limits women’s rights is bad but Beatrice was ready to throw everything away for a magic system I didn’t understand at all. Except for a couple of random references to people making flames with their fingers, the only magic we see is summoning spirits. Is that it? I don’t think so but I didn’t see anything else. Beatrice also makes her plan before summoning a spirit so how did she know what she was missing unless there’s something else. I couldn’t get behind a character throwing away her family and love for the chance to have basically a little kid voice in her head and luck. While Beatrice didn’t want to marry someone she didn’t know and was using magic, I was good with it but once it became about magic versus love, nope, I didn’t buy it. This book set in a world that really felt magical could have been a much better read.
I also got really annoyed with Beatrice’s decisions. Forget about the magic system not seeming worth this effort but the whole great bargain idea seemed like a weird way to get out of it. And I think the ending backs me up on that not being the best plan for the issue to just disappear. She makes bad decision after bad decision and everything just works out anyway even though people keep telling her she did stupid things. She also is really careless with her magic and keeps getting caught but despite them saying she’ll be killed or ostracized for doing higher magic, it time and again ends up not being the case.
So this book gets 2 stars for a really great idea that was executed very poorly. I’d read from this author again because they had an intriguing idea and the writing was good.