The Midnight Bargain: Fighting the Patriarchy for Autonomy
Only one of us still gravitates towards Romances and that is not me. So, colour me surprised and delighted to find that this story had a most relevant and timely theme wrapped up with this love story. Set in a regency-themed world, Polk weaves a tale of a young sorceress desperately seeking the path that will enable her to achieve her dreams of becoming a successful practitioner of magic. However, the society that she inhabits has set rules that dictate what and where a woman's place is.
Beatrice has the brilliant aura of a powerful sorceress, but she will never be able to realize her true potential, as a young woman of her age and status has only one future to look forward to and that is to be a wife and mother. This path means only one thing to Beatrice: having her magic locked away and accessed only at the whim of her husband. But Beatrice is also shackled by duty and an intense obligation to family and name, and returning the prosperity that her father once enjoyed.
What I liked the most about this book is the complex theme that is weaved throughout the narrative. Polk has presented a societal construct that dogs the steps of progress for women. And she connected it so well with the time and setting of the story.
As women face the binding and subjugation of their power (through marriage), they find ways of fighting back, by creating a sisterhood that protects women who practice magic, encoding spells and rituals in books that outwardly would not appeal to men or even if they did would not reveal their true purpose. Polk showed simply the depth of strength and cleverness of women and their dedication to subverting patriarchy and its suffocating effects, and charting a path for the upcoming generation. Women have always been fierce resistors. the way in which men enforce the place and worth of women is very clearly depicted in this book: "There's no way a woman could answer both the demands of family and magic";
"That a woman who doesn't want children isn't actually an adult" are a few of the instances in which Beatrice tackles the outdated and misogynist leanings of men.
Beatrice's love interest, though inclined to unlearn the inherent and taught idealisms of men, had to be challenged and disabused of the these harmful notions through her resistance and will to fight for her rights. As a male and heir, he was raised and indoctrinated to believe in his right to wield his power and take advantage of every avenue that allowed him to rise as far as he could go because of his status and gender, so even though he loves his sister and is falling for Beatrice, he has not had to seriously consider and confront how the male-centric society has impeded the success of women. The very nature of men 'allowing' a woman to use her intrinsic talents is a mainstay of the patriarchy- you can use your gifts, but only when, how, and where we stipulate.
This quote resonated deeply with me because it is so true of the fight women today are still fighting: "Women should have a voice in their future, and her decisions alone matter when it comes to how she will use her own body."
It is immensely satisfying seeing our real world struggles as women reflected in the works we read.