C.L. Polk's fantasy novel The Midnight Bargain explores love and magic — and now it's on Canada Reads
C.L. Polk is a fantasy writer from Calgary. They are the author of the novels Witchmark, Stormsong and The Midnight Bargain. Witchmark, their first book, won the 2019 World Fantasy Award for best novel.
Set in a fantasy land named Chasland that feels like the Regency era in England, The Midnight Bargain is a fantasy about a woman named Beatrice Clayborn who makes her debut at "bargaining season" — an annual event where wealthy young men and women gather from all over the world to make advantageous marriages.
But Beatrice dreams of becoming a full-fledged magician in Chasland — and pursuing magic as her calling, as men are allowed to do.
Polk spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing The Midnight Bargain.
A fantasy with love, romance and magic
"I wasn't actually trying to duplicate the Regency era. I just wanted to borrow a couple of their cultural traditions.
"This includes the idea of the London social season — I have read about it a lot and also a lot of the historical romance novels. I wanted that extended period of interaction between people who've come from all over to meet, mingle and negotiate marriages.
I wasn't actually trying to duplicate the Regency era. I just wanted to borrow a couple of their cultural traditions.
"Bargaining season operates on two levels. I concentrated on the level that Beatrice was most involved in. She is basically expected to attend social gatherings, to meet as many people as possible and to make as many advantageous connections as she possibly can. She is there to find a rich husband to marry because Beatrice has the gift of sorcery.
"The other level is that the parents of all of these young people are also getting together. Their fathers are getting together to meet each other in order to invite each other into whatever investment schemes to advantage themselves and get even richer.
"Beatrice is under a lot of pressure to find a wealthy husband because her family is teetering on the brink. Her father had a lot of confidence in his ability to make money, but he isn't really actually very good at it.
"He's mortgaged the family home and Beatrice, basically getting married to a rich man, is her family's last ditch effort to stay afloat and also to fund the bargaining season of her younger sister, Harriet."
Playing with magic and spirits
"If you are a sorceress, then it means that you have the capability to attract magical spirits. The most common thing that a spirit wants is the experience of having a physical body. They want to be able to see things, hear things, smell things, taste things, feel things. They want the experience of a physical body and they want it so badly that they will do just about anything to get it.
If you are a sorceress, then it means that you have the capability to attract magical spirits.
"The problem is magical spirits don't really have a moral sense. They don't understand right and wrong. They understand what they want and what they don't want. When they don't get what they want, they can be extremely destructive."
What fantasy fiction is today
"A lot of people, when they hear fantasy, they think of elves, orcs, trolls, magic treasure and journeying through the woods. This is a lot of what fantasy was, but a lot of what fantasy is now is examining social systems — what they're like and what they could be like.
A lot of people, when they hear fantasy, they think of elves, orcs, trolls, magic treasure and journeying through the woods.
"They are an exercise in speculation: once you decide to build a world, you're going to decide the physicality of the world — including how the culture of the peoples on that world interlock and are dependent upon each other. You're making all of these decisions and they're all deeply influenced by what you believe and what you value.
"Modern fantasy is extremely aware of this, whereas older fantasy probably was not."
C.L. Polk's comments have been edited for length and clarity.
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