Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking
by T. Kingfisher
Recommended Ages: 12+

Mona is a 14-year-old apprentice baker in the city-state of Riverbraid, where people like her, with magical abilities, have been pretty well tolerated until lately. But when she finds a dead girl in the kitchen and the royal inquisitor accuses her of murder, Mona begins to awaken to the fact that magic folk are disappearing all over town. Some of them have been murdered. Some are moving away, warning of a growing danger. Aided by a street urchin, a carnivorous sourdough starter and an animated gingerbread man, she tries to warn the Duchess that a conspiracy is afoot. But unmasking the Inquisitor, to say nothing of a traitor among the royal wizards, may be too late. The army is five days' march away in one direction. An enemy horde, in cahoots with a banished traitor, is only two days away in the other. The "Spring Green Man" has stuck his knife in the last surviving, loyal wizard in the city – except for a madwoman who literally rides a dead horse, and Mona.

What can she do to hold the city against attackers who are only interested in destroying and devouring? The only magic Mona knows has to do with bread. Making dough rise. Keeping biscuits from being too tough. Telling cinnamon rolls not to burn. OK, now and then, when she's really stressed, she lets out a little more power than she intended and creates living bread, like Bob (the sourdough starter) and her gingerbread man. Does she even have enough power to turn all the city's bread dough into weapons? Finding out may cost Mona her life. But she's all the city's got in the crisis.

As narrators go, Mona has a lot of attitude and a good sense of humor. For example, as she describes what it's like to walk on water wearing magicked bread crusts on her feet, she whimsically appeals to the experience of those in the audience who have traveled in this way. When challenged to find ways to weaponize bread, the ideas she comes up with are just hilarious – from "bad cookies" running around and creating chaos to 12-foot-tall golems made from not mud but dough. She is forced to grow up beyond her years, thinking wise things about (for example) the difficulty of being a good ruler, the trouble about being a hero, and what nobody ever tells you about how magic really works. Her adventure is both thoughtful and exciting, by turns. With one problem arising just as another is solved, it has a satisfying heft to it and avoids too-easy outcomes. I wouldn't mind meeting Mona again, in a sequel.

T. Kingfisher is a pseudonym of author Ursula Vernon, under which she has also written the novels Bryony and Roses, The Seventh Bride, The Raven and the Reindeer, Summer in Orcus, Clockwork Boys, The Wonder Engine, Swordheart, The Twisted Ones, Paladin's Grace, and The Hollow Places; the story collections Toad Words And Other Stories, The Halcyon Fairy Book and Jackalope Wives And Other Stories, and the novellas Nine Goblins and Minor Mage. As herself, she is the Hugo, Nebula and Mythopoeic Fantasy Award winning author of Nurk, Castle Hangnail, and many kids' graphic novels including the "Digger," "Black Dogs," "Dragonbreath" and "Hamster Princess" series and Irrational Fears. This review is based on a Kindle e-book.

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