Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by C.L. Polk

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-64566-007-1
Publisher: Erewhon

An intelligent and gifted young woman seeks to forge her own path despite considerable social and financial pressures in this feminist fantasy–meets–Regency romance.

Beatrice Clayborn’s father has gone deeply into debt to allow her to present herself properly at Bendleton’s bargaining season, when eligible unmarried gentlemen select their brides. But Beatrice doesn’t want to get married; she wants to make a bargain with a greater spirit and become a mage, supporting her family’s fortunes through her considerable magic powers. Unfortunately, only men are allowed to practice the higher magics; to prevent spirits from invading pregnant women’s wombs and possessing their babies, women are denied magical lore and are locked into collars that suppress their magical potential from their weddings until menopause. When Beatrice locates a grimoire that might offer the knowledge she seeks, it brings her into the orbit of the most eligible pair of siblings on the market, the wealthy and well-connected Ysbeta and Ianthe Lavan. Ysbeta wants Beatrice to teach her how to conjure and bargain with spirits, that she might also remain unmarried and pursue magic. Ianthe’s interest in Beatrice is more romantic in nature, and Beatrice fears those feelings might be mutual. Beatrice is faced with an impossible choice: Marry Ianthe and give up the magic she loves or pursue the dangerous and forbidden path to magery; meanwhile, various parties seek to prevent Beatrice from taking either option. As in Polk’s ongoing series The Kingston Cycle, magic represents a source of political and physical power that only a select group is permitted to wield. It’s a talent that can spring up in anyone but requires opportunities and training to flourish—and whether those are available depends heavily on gender, class, and finances. Obviously, such a concept has many parallels in our own world. The author’s penetrating social critique and deeply felt depiction of one woman’s struggle for self-determination are balanced by her charming take on classic Regency romance. The tropes of the story are such that we have a reasonable expectation that Beatrice will somehow find a way to realize her dreams, however paradoxical they seem in her milieu, but the author does a nice job of ratcheting up the tension and places enough obstacles in her protagonist’s way that the reader might almost believe that failure is possible. The resolution therefore feels well earned and is pleasingly served with a righteous blow at the smugly complacent preservers of the status quo.

An expertly concocted mélange of sweet romance and sharp social commentary.