Based on a recommendation in the Science Fiction/Fantasy thread at the MobileRead forums, I just picked up and read A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher. It’s a young adult title, and I’m not a young adult (!!!), but I do enjoy some YA books from time to time. And this was one of them.
Overall the book is a little bit of a trope: young wizard seems to have weak and useless skills, finds out there are useful things to be done with those skills, succeeds in using them in a good cause. But there’s a reason tropes are tropes, and that’s because, when they are done well, they make for good stories. And in this case, the story was quite well told, and I was pulled right into the struggles and adventures of Mona’s life. I was especially taken by the changes in 14 year-old Mona from the time early in the book when she laments that an adult shouldn’t “just leave two kids alone in a house with a madman on the prowl” to the point where she is figuring out adult things for herself, such as the idea that adults are not necessarily good or responsible people just because they are “upper-class” or “nobility”.
The author does a nice job of world-building, and the characters in the world rang true for me too, including Mona’s aunt and uncle; the street kid, Spindle; the villain (not telling you who it is, although you’ll figure it out pretty quickly); the Duchess; Knackering Molly; and even just the population in general. The scene early in the book where different people responded quite differently to the idea that the folks with magic were going to be forced to “register” with the government was really quite well done. (Not really a spoiler, since it’s pretty early in the book…) And when Mona starts figuring out everything that’s wrong with that, she’s learning again.
All-in-all, I really enjoyed Defensive Baking, and I’m in awe of the author’s ability to figure out useful things to do with bread! Although the book comes to a satisfactory ending, with no cliff-hangers, there do seem to be a couple of little “hooks” right at the end that might lend themselves to future sequels, and I hope T. Kingfisher comes back to this world, and to Mona.