Sunday, September 11, 2022

a wizard's guide

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon). Argyll, 2020.

The title might lead you to expect some kind of expository lump, a fictional cookbook, but no, this is a novel, with a first-person 14-year-old protagonist. Her name is Mona, and she holds a responsible position in her aunt's bakery in this not-quite-medievalish city.

Oh yes, and she's a wizard. In this world wizards, who have a talent they're just born with, are none too powerful and can usually do their magic on just one thing. Mona's is baked goods, bread and cookies. She can use her magic to encourage the bread to bake properly, or to animate things, e.g. make gingerbread men dance. She also has a sentient sourdough starter living in the basement.

So when, in the course of this novel - sorry for mentioning stuff from the last third of the novel in a review, but this is the only way the title will make sense - she is the only wizard available to help defend the city from an invading army, what can her magic do to help?

Well, what the senior wizards - who never condescend to Mona: they treat her with respect as a fellow practitioner - had told her is that it's not the power of your magic that counts, it's the creativity of what you do with it. So here's something: a golem soldier baked of bread isn't going to mind being stuck with a knife or sword, and as it isn't serrated it's going to be awfully hard to cut the golem down that way. Defensive baking. You get the idea.

I usually bog down in fantasy novels I read for our book discussion group. This one, while not aspiring to greatness, was enjoyable and interesting all the way through. It's well crafted. It starts as a murder mystery, with a body discovered in the bakery, but this ends up being directly related to the plot, and not a sideshow as is usual. The characters are all individual and memorable, even when they disappear from the story not to return until much later. Only once did I have to stop and think, "Now who was that person they just mentioned?" and look them up from earlier on, and that was an incidental character who doesn't appear on stage. Though Mona's magic is vital to the city's defenses, she doesn't save it single-handedly. And we never forget that, hey, she's 14 and having a lot dumped on her shoulders.

The only distractions were musical. There's a character named Elgar and Mona has an Uncle Albert.

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