A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

The Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking book cover

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

[“Siege. Sorcery. Sourdough.”]

Some wizards have it made. They can cast spells that change the world, or at least make people fear them. Some people like that. Most others have a more understated gift, like raising dead horses up so they can be walked out of the crowded city streets they died in, or mend little things like glasses, or speak to the wood to make the best shapes out of it or take knots out of a wooden board. Mona is a magicker of bread, and her aunt Tabitha’s bakery is a place you can come for the best bread in town and maybe watch the gingerbread men get up and dance.

T. Kingfisher has created an interesting world in the mostly quiet town of Riverbraid, where the Duchess rules with an almost absentminded benevolence and Inquisitor Oberon is investigating a sudden rash of magicker deaths. After finding a dead body in the bakery one morning, Mona’s quiet and happy life of rolls and sweetbreads and cakes is turned on its head.

This is a YA novel, so you won’t find any sexy time or gory violence. But there is a scary villain and a feeling of impending doom that never quite leaves with Mona’s life turned upside down. Then there are the marauding Carex bearing down on the city, and they will kill and pillage until they run out of stuff to kill and pillage and then move on. No one wants that. Themes run through the book, which will teach you some life lessons on the sly, like how to be a loyal friend and how to be brave even in the most dire situations and the importance of learning.

Despite all this gloomy stuff, what will stick with you the most is how completely hilarious the book is. She tends to overdo the magic sometimes because she’s mostly untrained and creates things like the bakery’s carnivorous sourdough started named Bob. Mona’s chief sidekick in all her adventures is a gingerbread man she animated for a quick task but then just kinda never stopped.  She doesn’t have a lot of human friends, except for a ten year old street urchin called Spindle and the dead horse whisperer, Knackering Molly and her skeletal horse Nag. A lot of the book is Mona dealing with running from the authorities, the evil Spring Green Man, the impending Carex threat, and learning how much can be done with breads. And then there is a scene that made me cry, and still makes me really sad every time I think about it. This is a book with all the feels.

And all this in a book which very nearly stayed locked on the author’s computer. T. Kingfisher is the pen name of Ursula Vernon and in an afterward she talks about how long it took to both write “that bread wizard book” and then how long till publication, after it was “bought, edited, re-edited, dropped, abandoned, handed off to other editors, sold back to me, pitched again by my unfailingly optimistic agent, and editor after editor could not figure it out.” Fortunately it all worked out in the end, but it was a twelve year journey from researching dough on a new Kitchenaid mixer to actual publication.

If you know a young person who doesn’t mind reading the wizarding adventures of a fourteen year old girl I highly recommend you steer them in this direction. There is no grand castle of Hogwarts, though we do visit a couple of castle privies, and no Diagon Alley but a place called Rat’s Nest. Even so, I really want to see this book made into a movie. It’s great fun, with good themes and not too scary even when the bad guys draw near.

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