A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking


T. Kingfisher


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

February 17, 2022

hat a delightful find this novel is! The front cover gives an excellent indication of what type of this book this is: an angry gingerbread man brandishes a sword, and the subtitle says: Siege Sorcery Sourdough. The Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking is a lighthearted novel featuring Mona, a young magic-user who works in a bakery. Mona has magical talent, but it is quite limited in scope - Mona has the ability to do magical things with bread. Mona's muffins are always fluffy, the bread tastes excellent and never burns, and sometimes Mona will command her gingerbread men to stand up and dance. In her afterward, Kingfisher states that she had a hard time selling this novel, because some publishers thought that it was "too dark" for young adults. Jaded old-timer that I am, I thought the novel conveyed a fun tone of adventure.

Okay, I admit the novel does begin on a creepy note when Mona wakes up early to start the ovens in the bakery, only to find a dead girl lying on the shop floor. Mona quickly calls Aunt Tabitha, who in turn calls her husband, Uncle Albert, and he summons the constables. The constables don't do much, mostly standing around and helping themselves to sweet rolls, until Inquisitor Oberon shows up. Oberon sizes up the scene, and declares that there is a hint of magic surrounding the victim - and since Mona is a magic user (however benign her magical talents may be) - Oberon immediately accuses Mona of being the murderer! Mona is dragged off to face the Duchess and pay for her crimes. (I thought the name Oberon was a curious choice - isn't Oberon traditionally the name of the Faerie King? Just like Titania is the Queen of the Faerie folk? But this Oberon has nothing to do with Faerie folk, he appears to be just an irascible high-powered government official.)

The idea of random citizens manifesting random magic powers is a nice one. Most humans are non-magical, but there are some with special talent, such as Mona with her special affinity with bread dough. Master Eldwidge the woodworker is also a magicker, but Mona has never seen him do more than straighten wood that is bent. Knackering Molly, who is a bit insane, has the unique ability of making dead horses walk. Molly rides around the city on Nag, which is a skeleton of bones from a dead horse. Knackering Molly's bizarre sounding magic skill is actually quite useful; in a big city, horses perishes for all sorts of reasons and it is quite a hassle to haul the carcass of such a large animal out of town. But Knackering Molly can just make the dead horse stand up and walk outside the city to the burial ground.

Mona becomes friends with a young boy named Spindle. Spindle is the brother of the murdered girl (who was named Tibbie). Spindle yearns to avenge his sister's death, but there isn't much he can do. However, there is a rumor going around that someone is murdering all of the magic wielders in the city, no matter how harmless their magical talent may be. Unfortunately, all of the powerful "war wizards" (a war wizard is one who's magical talent is actually useful in war - such as throwing lightning or commanding storms) have left the city with the army. Lord Ethan, the Golden General is off chasing a huge band of Carex, who are marauding raiders. With the Golden General away, there is no one to solve the problem of murdered the magic users. It looks like Mona and Spindle will have to tackle the job themselves.

At one point in the novel, the old royal wizard Master Giladean tells Mona that it is not a matter of how powerful a sorcerer you are, what matters is how creative you are with the ability that you've got. Mona actually does some creative thinks with dough in this novel, Kingfisher must have had fun imaging scenarios that Mona might find herself trapped in, and then use a bread-based stratagem to extract herself. Certainly I haven't read a book like this before. It seems like Kingfisher is using her talent in a very creative way to tell this story, I loved the unique perspective a young girl who is nothing more than a baker finding herself involved in high level intrigue and adventure. I have already checked the library catalog to see what other Kingfisher novels might be available. It looks like A Minor Mage has a cover similar to A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking, and so perhaps it tells a story in a similar vein. I hope so!