I’ve heard so much about T Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) that I started feeling foolish I hadn’t read anything of hers yet. So I had to move her to the top of my cozy TBR, and I’m glad I did.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking stars Mona, an apprentice baker who works at her Aunt Tabitha’s bakery. Mona has a special talent: she’s a wizard who works with baked goods. She can convince muffins not to burn in the oven and dough to rise even if it was kneaded too much.
The story begins when Mona finds a dead girl in the bakery one morning. This immediately put me in mind of the cozy mystery genre, where everything is light and fun despite corpses turning up by the boatload in the protagonist’s small town. Luckily this isn’t the direction Defensive Baking takes. A lot of the book—which in retrospect is technically YA—is about Mona dealing with her sudden, shocking exposure to the dark side of the world. Her emotions are given a great deal of emphasis and treated with respect, and her journey as someone forced to suddenly grow up is the major theme of the book.
That said, there were some things I didn’t love about Wizard’s Guide. For one, the plot felt a little piecemeal. Not that the conflicts don’t follow logically, but more that there are two big, somewhat unrelated chunks. The murder mystery is wrapped up early on, and the latter half of the book is dedicated to Mona’s efforts to protect her city from besieging barbarians.
Second, there’s a decided lack of plot twists. The characters who seem good at first stay good, the apparent bad guys turn out to be bad, and things go pretty much as expected throughout. There is one surprise right at the climax, but it actually frustrated me because it takes away somewhat from Mona’s contributions. (In retrospect it does feel thematically appropriate, but left me feeling a bit shortchanged, plot-wise.)
Finally, there are a few proofreading errors. Possibly these are due to the book being self-published by Kingfisher, and they’re rare and generally very minor, but there’s an otherwise powerful, emotional scene throughout which Mona’s Uncle Albert is called Uncle Earl!
Overall this was a fun, quick read that scratched the Legends & Lattes baking-magic itch. It’s definitely not slice-of-life, but I’d certainly call it cozy. Kingfisher is an excellent writer from a technical standpoint; her characters are strong and lively, the prose flows well, and it’s genuinely funny. It was perfect to tear through in a couple days while on vacation (from which I must now return to the workaday world).
— Nathaniel Webb