A Wizard's Guide To Defensive Baking

T. Kingfisher
A Wizard's Guide To Defensive Baking Cover

A Wizard's Guide To Defensive Baking


I found this quite the delightful book which I enjoyed far more than I expected. This year I am dipping back into fantasy, horror and science fiction award winners which always leads to discovering new authors and picking up things I wouldn't normally do. It seems in the last year or so, novels which would be classed as YA are picking up awards and this is the third YA book I have read in as many months. Of course, when you get to my age one kind of thinks they have passed YA by but the genre continues to both satisfy and surprise me.

Ursula Vernon, writing as T. Kingfisher has presented a wonderful book about magic, about a young person realising their potential coming from little into becoming a hero, which is both touching but with plenty of laughs.

The setting is a bog standard fantasy setting which could be anywhere really, but what is interesting is the treatment of magic. There are many magic users in the setting but there is a perception that there are of course magnificent wizards who can do all sorts of destructive and spectacular stuff but most magic users can work with a certain defined material and it just kind of makes things a little better. So in our story, Mona, a 14 year old orphan who works in her aunt's bakery can use magic when she handles dough. So in practice, she can help stop buns from burning, can help dough rise and generally bake well. She doesn't see herself as a magician, and more someone who is good at and enjoys baking.

I won't get into the plot too much but it starts off as a bit of a murder mystery 'whodunnit', segues into political intrigue and then when you feel you're at a natural end for the book we have a strong second half that builds on everything that has gone before.

So what works? Well, there are plenty of laughs in the book for one. There were quite a few times I found myself with a smile on my face reading this. Secondly, characterisation - I really liked Mona, I felt she had an authenticity about her and she was pretty believable as a 14 year old. I didn't feel her voice was too childlike or grown up and whilst the supporting cast is a bit more of a stretch to buy into there is nothing too original, but everything feels like a comfy pair of slippers. It's familiar, but one doesn't mind. Also, considering how much of the book is 'cookie-cutter' (see what I did there?) I felt I was reading something creative, imaginative in a world where what happens matters. Maybe it's the sense of fun, maybe it was the creative use of dough, I'm not sure.

The novel has just the right amount of 'peril' (there's nothing in here a tween / teen would be troubled by but there are themes of murder and sabotage). Likewise, there is a certain vulnerability to Mona which works as a page turner and helps the reader buy into the premise. What landed quite well with me emotionally was the theme of heroism and what young people should expect from adults in terms of keeping them safe. Considering I am reading this whilst people are dying in senseless wars and are lauded as heroes and children's lives are being destroyed by war this really resonated with me.

So I rattled through it quick, had fun doing so and really there isn't much wrong with that.