A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T Kingfisher
Fourteen-year-old Mina never meant to get arrested. In fact, she shouldn’t have been arrested at all. She was the one who found the body of the girl in her aunt’s bakery, but because Mina is a wizard (does being able to magic bread even count ?) she’s immediately suspected. Although she’s exonerated, she tumbles into a conspiracy. Someone is murdering wizards, an enemy marches across the countryside, and her magical friends are evacuating from a ramped up persecution. Suddenly, the enemy is at the gates, and the city needs a wizard. But only Mina is left…and what can a girl with a gingerbread man familiar even do?
“But I shouldn’t have had to do any of it. There should have been so many grown-ups who should have fixed things before it got down to me and Spindle. It doesn’t make you a hero just because everybody else didn’t do their job.”
This was a damned delight.
I should have known from the beginning, when Mina stumbles right into a dead body in the middle of her bakery and freaks out—and also because right after that she’s talking about zombie frogs, which really aren’t as bad as zombie crayfish because those are really awful.
What a wonderful, fantastic story—I think it’s going to be a new favorite. Nope, it is a new favorite.
This book was the kind of story I wish I had when I was a teen—just the right amount of sarcasm and dark humor mixed with incredible worldbuilding and a nonstop storyline.
I read a couple of reviews that said this was more adult than YA, and I disagree. This is very much. a YA book—there are heavy themes of adults not doing their jobs and children stepping up to save the day, and other themes of gaining independence and finding your own worth in a world that doesn’t want you or doesn’t think you’re enough. I did like that it explored why the adults not doing their jobs in the damn first place and then relying on a child to save everyone was such an awful thing, because a lot of YA fantasies either don’t have adults at all or the adults are plainly evil instead of merely sleeping on the job, and the implications of making children step up are kinda…skipped over. There’s also a conversation on what heroism actually means that was…also very necessary to read.
“If you have ever prepared for a siege in two days, then you know what the next few days were like. If you haven’t, then you probably don’t. Well…a big formal wedding is about the same (and because we do cakes, I’ve been on the periphery of a few), except that if things go wrong in a siege you’ll all die horribly, and in formal weddings, the stakes are much higher.”
There’s a lot going on in this story. First a bit of a murder investigation that rolls into a serial killer on the loose and Mina having to hide with the ramping up of wizardly persecution and registration, and then it swings into an attempted coup followed by in-depth preparation for a siege followed by the siege itself. Plus a whole lot of baking. Like I said, a lot to pack into 308 pages and yet it works?
Mina as a character was just fantastic. Smart and silly, brave and filled with fear. Determined to save her city and also just wanting to go back to normal so she can be an apprentice baker in her aunt’s bakery again.
I also loved the secondary characters. Bob the carnivorous sourdough starter was a definite favorite, along with the gingerbread man familiar and Spindle the pickpocket were the main secondaries, along with Knackering Molly who can raise dead horses and is a touch not all there, and Mina’s aunt and uncle.
Other secondary characters weren’t as fully fleshed out, and yet they still worked. I liked the Duchess, and the fact that this anti-establishment book clearly demonstrates how absolute power isn’t absolute and is also fallible. I liked the blacksmith, and I liked General Ethan…although I was dubious about him because handsome men who are close to the ruler who are described as handsome and charming always trigger my spidey-senses. I liked that these people (and the other wizard…no, not Elgar) supported Mina and helped her realize her full potential, even though the need for this was literally because of them.
But uh, the secondary character I might have developed a really bad crush on was head of the guard Joshua. Aside from the awful name, the man is hot. What can I say, I have a type.
T. Kingfisher is a new to me writer this year, and I so regret having her work linger on my tbr all these years because she writes how I wish I could write. Kingfisher’s writing style is nostalgic in the best way. Dark and funny and weird humor and characters who shine and sparkle and just are. She reminds me a bit of Robin McKinley’s darker stuff (flashes of Sunshine‘s chattiness) mixed with what Naomi Novik is trying to do with A Deadly Education (and mostly succeeding—I do love that series), combined with a dash of Tamora Pierce.
Definitely a book to check out if you’re feeling YA fantasy with a nostalgic feel that is still all it’s own.
Although make sure you have delicious pastries on hand, because you will be hungry.
“Once a baker, always a baker. If I was going to get thrown in the dungeon, at least I was going to leave a trail of quality pastries behind me.”