Who’s up for some dark yet cozy magical baking plus murder? I have now read this in print and listened to the audiobook, so it’s high time I shared it with you.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
by T. Kingfisher
Argyll Productions, 2020
Read from library copy
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher.
Readers familiar with T. Kingfisher will know that this a pen name for Ursula Vernon (or vice versa?), who usually uses T. Kingfisher for her adult books and Ursula Vernon for her children’s books. This book is not written for adults, but is considerably darker than her not-quite-middle-grade and middle grade books, like the Hamster Princess and Dragonbreath series, and Castle Hangnail.
14-year-old Mona was orphaned several years ago, but has found a happy place working as the apprentice at her Aunt Tabitha’s bakery. (Aunt Tabitha is introduced to us wearing a housedress with a flying croissant print, which is delightful.) Since Mona has a bit of magic ability, directly and exclusively related to baking, this job is perfect for her.
Things change precipitously the morning the story begins, however, as Mona stumbles across the body of a girl her own age as she comes into the bakery at 4 am to start the day’s bread. Things get even worse as she’s first accused of the murder herself and then has her room broken into by a street kid named Spindle, who turns out to be the younger brother of Tibbie, the body, and rightfully wants to know what’s happened to his sister. As things progress, Mona learns that the constables are no longer to be trusted, because though magickers are relatively common in her city-state, they are now quietly disappearing all over the city, and the constables are keeping a special eye out for Mona. She’s aided in an escape from the constables by a well-known magicker, Knackering Molly, a woman who went insane from having her magic abilities exploited for battle and now rides around on a skeleton horse. She tells Mona to beware of the Spring Green Man – which is both ominous and vague. Now Mona has to not only clear her name, but also figure out where the new campaign against magickers is coming from – and avoid being murdered in the meantime. There is still time for a surprising amount of baking between escapades.
As you might guess from the opening of the book, this ventures into some dark territory, including police violence, government-sponsored hate, and petty intolerance. But all of this is leavened (get it?) with humor from Mona’s magic – her familiars include a gingerbread man who acts as a kind of bodyguard and a sentient and definitely dangerous sourdough starter named Bob. Mona’s own determination and sense of justice, as well as her loving relationships with her aunt and uncle, make firm anchors for the story. Age-wise, this is an upper middle grade to teen sort of book, depending on the reader. I know of at least one twelve-year-old who loves it, though my daughter started and decided not to finish it, even though she loved Castle Hangnail. It’s still going down as one of my personal favorites.