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A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

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Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance.

But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…

308 pages, Paperback

First published July 21, 2020

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About the author

T. Kingfisher

42 books7,920 followers
T. Kingfisher is the vaguely absurd pen-name of Ursula Vernon. In another life, she writes children's books and weird comics, and has won the Hugo, Sequoyah, and Ursa Major awards, as well as a half-dozen Junior Library Guild selections.

This is the name she uses when writing things for grown-ups.

When she is not writing, she is probably out in the garden, trying to make eye contact with butterflies.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,895 reviews
Profile Image for carol..
1,537 reviews7,875 followers
July 27, 2020
Really, how can any baker resist a title like that, along with the lure of an enthusiastic but somewhat unreliable sourdough starter named Bob? But what at first seems to be a murder mystery when a young baker named Mona finds a body in the bakery morphs fairly quickly into a coming-of-age story, in the setting of a politically unstable landscape. 

"You’re making their lives better, just a little tiny bit. It is nearly impossible to be sad when eating a blueberry muffin. I’m pretty sure that’s a scientific fact."

There were two problems here, both of which will vary tremendously depending on the reader. One, the lead is a very timid sort. While she does grow into her magic, I would hesitate to say she grows significantly into her personhood power. While that is entirely alright, the mileage one gets out of this may vary. She's a young, rule-follower, trusting sort of young person, and that's fine. Her emotional breakdowns are in line with this persona, as are her worries. And I kind of applaud Kingfisher for trying to tell a story about someone who doesn't want to be a hero, and who doesn't get powered-up and stomp all over the story. But. But not my favorite kind of lead character. I might have liked her better if I was ten. 

The second challenge--perhaps like much in baking--was one of scale. Had Kingfisher been content to keep it a smaller story like in Minor Mage, it would have worked better for me. But I found myself puzzled, supremely, by dual ideas (spoilery) of a large enough city that

That said, there's plenty to enjoy here. The baking is probably the most fun. Bob the sourdough starter is hilarious and steals every scene (and that ranks right up there with things I never thought I'd say about a book, along with spiders are cool). I kept waiting for the little gingerbread man to run down the road shouting, "you can't catch me," but that could be because I just read The Big Over Easy.

"In Bob’s case, it was easy. I stuck both hands into the soup tureen and tried to convince him that what the world needed was a whole lot more Bob. As this coincided with what Bob himself had always believed"

It's a decent Kingfisher, which means the characterization feels solid. There's a few standard characters rolled in (pushy, loving aunt, a thief) as well as some intriguing ones (the uncle, the horse witch). It's ethics and world-building are probably geared a little simply compared to some of her other works, which may be why it feels a little younger. Still, it's a Kingfisher, and the writing is occasionally quite perfect.

"Nobody said anything to me, and they didn’t exactly stare, but they knew I was there, and I knew that they knew, and they knew that I knew that they knew, all in a creepy, crackling tangle of mutual awareness."

On the scale of Kingfisher, I'd say Nine Goblins < Defensive Baking < Minor Mage < The Tomato Thief.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
September 12, 2020
4.5 stars! Review first posted on FantasyLiterature.com:

A dead body is an awful thing to find on the floor of a bakery, especially when you’re a fourteen-year-old baker’s assistant with just a minor talent in magic, enough to make gingerbread men dance and biscuit dough turn fluffy on command. It’s worse when the city inquisitor decides to accuse you of the murder, for no particularly good reason. It’s even worse when you realize that there’s a mysterious assassin on the loose, targeting people who have magical powers, no matter how insignificant.

Mona is an orphan who works in her Aunt Tabitha’s bakery, using her talent with baking (and a little magic) to help with her job. It’s not an easy life, but Mona loves being an apprentice baker … and there’s the fact that her magical powers only work with bread products. But the city government and constables are turning against wizards, even minor ones like Mona, and the assassin seems to have a nose for tracking down and killing anyone with magical powers. Soon all wizards, great and small, are abandoning the city, and Mona is on the run.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is T. Kingfisher’s latest in a run of excellent middle grade fantasies featuring intrepid children and young teens, including Summer in Orcus and Minor Mage. The baking details give this fantasy an unusual and down-to-earth spin. It’s fun to see Mona bringing a rather stale gingerbread man to life, but to have the gingerbread man unexpectedly develop its own personality is, well, icing on the cake.
Something patted my cheek. I looked down and saw the gingerbread man on my shoulder. He was steadying himself with a hank of hair in one hand, and with the other he reached up and caught the tears I hadn’t known I was crying.
Kingfisher’s fantasies are reminiscent of Robin McKinley’s work, with whimsical details and amusing parenthetical remarks. The main characters are well-rounded and come alive on the page. Often charming and personable animals are part of both authors’ formulas, but here instead of an animal sidekick we have animated gingerbread men and other bakery products with minds of their own, not to mention Bob the belching sourdough starter. Bob is a scene stealer, which is something I never would have guessed I would say about a gloppy bucket of yeast and dough that extends tentacles.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is, like Minor Mage and Summer in Orcus, somewhat darker than may be the norm for middle grade fantasies. While people (even good ones!) die and those adults who should be in charge are fallible, this is still ultimately an uplifting and empowering tale. It’s about people who don’t really want to be heroes — who shouldn’t even have to be heroes — but still rise to the occasion when others have failed, because they’re needed.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is whimsical and dark and imaginative and fantastic. It gets my enthusiastic recommendation for readers both young and old.

Thanks so much to the author for the review copy!
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,468 reviews9,631 followers
January 30, 2021
Buddy Read With My MacHalo’s! Although I finished first as I don’t have a life, mostly 🤨

These characters were so wonderful!! Well, not the twats...

*Bob, who is not your ordinary dough boy or otherwise

In the darkest, warmest corner of the basement, a bucket bubbled slowly. Every now and then bubbles would, pop and exhale a damp, yeasty aroma.

"C’mon, Bob..." I said, using sugary tones you’d use to approach an unpredictable animal. "C'mon. I’ve got some nice flour for you..."

Bob popped several bubbles, which is his version of an enthusiastic greeting.

*Molly and Nag

Anyway, you can spot Molly easily. She rides around the city on Nag. Nag’s been dead longer than I’ve been alive, and he’s mostly bones now, so she pads him with rags and straw and old flour sacks. He looks like a magpie nest with hooves.

*Gingerbread Man

The gingerbread man on my shoulder waved to our pursuer as we drifted out of sight.


The gingerbread man crouched on my shoulder, icing eyes narrowed

I loved the MC Mona and and her bread making abilities, Spindle and his thieving abilities. Aunt Tabitha and her bakery. Let’s just say there are great characters, awesome creatures and stuff, so read it 😉

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
December 19, 2021
“Death by sourdough starter. Not a good way to go.”
Disclaimer: I don’t bake (unless burning something to a crisp can be considered baking), and apparently neither does T. Kingfisher — but she “bought a Kitchenaid mixer and began grimly following recipes” for the research purpose — and that’s some respectable admiration-worthy dedication. All to write a kids book about a young wizard who can magic bread — featuring carnivorous sourdough starter and feisty militarized gingerbread man cookie.

I don’t even care about pastries, but think I may sell my soul for a freshly baked sweet bun right now.
“The great wizards, the magi that serve the Duchess, they can throw fireballs around or rip mountains out of the earth, heal the dying, turn lead into gold. Me, I can turn flour and yeast into tasty bread, on a good day. And occasionally make carnivorous sourdough starters.”

Mona is fourteen, and has what she sees as a very minor wizarding talent — her skills are, as she describes, mostly limited to “making bread rise and keeping the pastry dough from sticking together”, and at times animating cookies and making gingerbread men dance — and therefore is quite unprepared when her skills are needed to save the city. It all starts with a dead body in the bakery — “I haven’t seen a lot of dead bodies in my life—I’m only fourteen, and baking’s not exactly a high-mortality profession” — and from there eventually leads to some life-or-death stakes for the entire city-state. Just like that.

“You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a cookie look smug.”

Mona is a very reluctant hero, wanting “to make really good sourdough and muffins and not get messed up with assassins and politics” — and she would much rather not have to do anything heroic because really, that’s something required of adults. Kids should not be saving the world and fixing mistakes of careless adults, and yet sometimes life does not care what you think, and adults make stupid choices and let you down — even if you are young and careful and try your best to be sensible and follow the rules. Sometimes you have to rise up to a challenge when those in charge have failed in their responsibilities, and hope that you are not alone.
“Hero. It should never have come down to me. It was miserably unfair that it had come to me and Spindle. There were grown-ups who should have stopped it. The Duchess should have found her courage and gone to the guards. The guards should have warned the Duchess. The Council, whoever they were, should have made sure the Duchess knew about the proclamations. The Duchess should have had people on the street who reported back to her. Everyone had failed at every step and now Spindle and I were heroes because of it.”

It’s a pretty young story, with some inconsistencies and contradictions that can annoy an adult reader, but I’m pretty sure would not bother a child in the slightest. It’s fun and snappy and the gingerbread cookie and Bob the sourdough starter steal every scene they are in. (And no, until I read this book, I did not have much of an idea of what exactly a sourdough starter is. It’s a bucket of gloopy yeast stuff, in case you want to know. In this case, it also eats rats, fish and maybe - if it’s really pissed off - invading soldiers.)

I just wish that the book had stuck to a smaller story - more minor magic, more sourdough starter and animated cookies, less of full-scale enemy invasion and magical powerhouse displays. I think Kingfisher is at her best when she sticks to quieter, smaller stories, the ones that do not involve medals for bravery handed out in the end.
“When you’re different, even just a little different, even in a way that people can’t see, you like to know that people in power won’t judge you for it.”

But I did love that at fourteen, Mona is still basically a kid, with young (and snarky) voice and zero contamination with romance that seems to plague so many books aimed at the youngsters. We have our kids grow up too fast in stories, and although Mona does a fair bit of this given the responsibilities thrust upon her, I love that in the end she’s still a kid at heart.

3.5 stars that I’m perfectly fine rounding up.

Now pass me a slice of cake, please.

EDIT: Aaaaaand — it won Andre Norton Award a.k.a. Baby Nebula!!!!!

EDIT # 2: And it also won Lodestar Award which I choose to view as a Baby Hugo.

My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2021: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,226 reviews2,057 followers
September 26, 2020
Pure unadulterated fun seemingly aimed at middle school aged children who like some darkness in their reading or adults who still enjoy some magic in their lives.

The magic in A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is delightful. Just take a look at the cover with that aggressive little gingerbread man waving a knife. And he is the least thing our fourteen year old magician dreams up when asked to defend her whole town from flesh eating savages. Her magic lies in baking so her defenses range from angry gingerbread men, through giant, bread golems to a carnivorous sourdough starter called Bob.

The book is inventive, very funny and a totally entertaining read. Now I am off to find more books by this author!
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,142 followers
July 26, 2020
A pure delight. Mona is 14 and has a magical gift for baking, which she has to repurpose into self defence and then defence of the city in the face of danger. It's beautifully developed, absorbing, with a spectacular and moving ending. T Kingfisher really does make everything better.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,562 reviews3,773 followers
December 20, 2022
4.5 stars - How is a book so cozy and yet still a gut wrenching exploration of the impotence of the government machine & the cost of war on the "little guy"? Ugh, I hope we get more in this world!!
Profile Image for Claude's Bookzone (on hiatus).
1,501 reviews201 followers
July 9, 2022
4.5 Stars

This book is ridiculous beyond belief.

I loved it.

Mona is an apprentice baker whose magical powers only extend to doughs and baked goods. Her familiar is a particularly nasty batch of sourdough and she can animate gingerbread cookies to the delight of customers. When a body is discovered on the floor of the bakery her life is flipped on its head as she flees from a sinister figure determined to get rid of all wizards. Think of all the scenes in Shrek that involve gingerbread people and you have a glimpse into this absurdly entertaining, totally charming novel. I feel guilty but I craved bread and gingerbread throughout this even though eating them would have felt tantamount to murder...*whispers*...it did not stop me. I thoroughly recommend this totally quirky and entertaining YA book! I think it would be okay for some intermediate/middle school students who like a little bit of dark but not scary humour.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,894 reviews1,927 followers
December 19, 2021
Winner of the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book at Worldcon 2021!


The 2021 Dragon Award for Best Young Adult Novel WINNER!! https://www.tor.com/2021/09/07/2021-d...


My Review
: First, read this:
Nobody said anything to me, and they didn’t exactly stare, but they knew I was there, and I knew that they knew, and they knew that I knew that they knew, all in a creepy, crackling tangle of mutual awareness.
“You didn’t fail,” I said. “They wouldn’t let you succeed. It’s different.”
When you're different, even just a little different, even in a way that people can't see, you like to know that people in power won't judge you for it.

What I'd like you to know is that I cherry-picked those lines for their content, not their felicity of construction or their stand-out euphony. That should give you an idea of the quality of Author Ursula Vernon's (pseudonymously known as Kingfisher) prose overall.

Why would a grouchy old fuffertut like me buy a (Kindlesale, to be fair) copy of a library book he's already read? Because he plans to re-read it. Yep...I want to have it so that I won't need to fuss my drawers procuring it when I am most in need of a laughing, weeping, cheering-my-fool-lungs-out read that doesn't have the effrontery to wink at me or let me know it's clever-clever. Story gets told, ideas get presented, world gets saved, and just keep the sourdough starter firmly in place or it'll get weird ideas.

Simple enough, surely.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,947 reviews3,404 followers
December 31, 2021
Now THIS was great!

One day, while 14-year-old wizard Mona is working in her aunt Tabatha's bakery, she finds a dead girl on the kitchen floor. But that is just the start of her troubles because there is a killer in the city and this assassin seems to be targeting magicas - minor ones like Mona. So the holy water creating zombie frogs really is the least of her problems.

I LOVED the quirkiness of this book's magical world. I mean, how many witches or wizards have a sourdough starter (named Bob) as their familiar?! Bwahahahahahaha! Unfortunately for Mona, her magic ONLY works on baked goods like bread or gingerbread men. So her fight for survival was ... interesting. *snickers*

Just as interesting as her allies what with their reanimated horse corpses and stuff (those minor magic folk certainly had highly unusual talents). Muhahahahahahaha.

This wasn't my first book by this author but definitely the first/only one I was smitten with. A great atmosphere, hilarious worldbuilding, snappy dialogues and vivacious characters all mix together to create a delicious adventure with colourful magic as icing on top.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,975 followers
December 18, 2021
I admit that I thought T. Kingfisher (U. Vernon)'s other works were anywhere between pretty good and pretty okay. Before I began this one, I only really knew the title and liked the idea of it, but I didn't know what to really expect.

Fortunately, the proof is in the baking, and the baking, indeed, was really good. YA, light magical effects (at first), and a real love of baking and making her gingerbread men. So far, so good, but with the evil wizard hunting down ALL the mages, no matter how quirky, it becomes a matter of survival.

And that's where it gets really good. Food can, after all, defeat an army. Muahahahaha

Very cute, delightful.
Profile Image for Eva.
185 reviews104 followers
April 25, 2021
4.5 stars - this is a very funny, but also sometimes sad and slightly dark fantasy tale about a baker's assistant who discovers a dead body one morning as she enters the bakery. She's also a wizard whose magic works only on dough and various forms of bread. She has a lump of sourdough and a gingerbread man as funny sidekicks, and also makes friends with a street kid who teaches her how to survive when things suck.

The story is about a murder mystery, there are dark echoes of totalitarianism and ethnic cleansing , and finally there's an army threatening the city while its usual defenders are away. And our heroine has only bread magic and sourdough. Can you defend a city with that?

For me, this was 4.5 stars, almost 5, and I can very much recommend it, especially as a winter holiday read: there's lots of yummy baking going on and despite of its dark themes, it always manages to maintain a warm and lighthearted tone.

This was also a very fast read for me: I practically flew through this book and was incredibly well entertained on every page.

Why not a full 5 stars? I felt that it had such rich themes and such a wonderful premise that even more could have been made of it, we could have gone into much more detail concerning the magic system, the world, etc. But maybe this will become a series, it certainly has the potential.
Profile Image for Sheena.
602 reviews264 followers
January 16, 2022
I feel bad giving this such a low rating but this was really good at first and then it just dragged on and on. It didn't need to be as long as it is so I'm disappointed as I usually enjoy Kingfisher.
Profile Image for Melki.
5,801 reviews2,341 followers
August 10, 2021
"Walk careful, bread girl. Little people like us, we're not safe these days. Watch your back."

Young Mona has a way with bread. She can keep it from burning, or make it taste fresher (or staler, if need be.) She can even make gingerbread men dance the can-can. 'Cause she's a wizard, you see. A 14-year-old wizard who's about to have her life turned upside-down.

I squeezed my eyes shut - it was going to be a cold bright pain, I just knew it, and then I was going to die, and that would be the end of a bread wizard named Mona who just wanted to make really good sourdough and muffins and not get messed up with assassins and politics and -

Someone is killing magic folk, and suddenly it's up to Mona to figure out who's doing it, AND why . . .before she turns out to be the next victim. She just needs to keep in mind that in magic, creativity is as important as knowledge.

I can't begin to describe how much I loved this absolutely delightful book featuring silly shenanigans, leavened with some serious undertones. Imagine that Julia Child met Terry Pratchett, and together they created this calorie-free morsel. Yum!
Profile Image for MB (What she read).
2,333 reviews14 followers
July 23, 2020
Super! I loved it--that perfect mix of whimsy and wisdom.

P.S. As per author's note at the back on publication issues, IMO editors strongly underestimate children's taste. If they think this book is too harsh (or whatever) to be published for children, then how the heck would Roald Dahl. et al ever get published now?!? Kids love this kind of thing. And it's good for growing minds to realize real life is full of challenges. It certainly doesn't hurt anyone to be told fictionally that evil should not ultimately succeed, that they can't leave it for others to fight, good people do die, and that, by inference, the hero, as well as the reader will have to work hard to defeat their own particular evil/s.

P.P.S. I really appreciated the author's thoughts on heroes. That gave me something to think about. Kind of supplemental to Mr. Roger's advice to look for the helpers maybe?

P.P.P.S. No, we really don't do enough societally to recognize the real quiet heroism demonstrated daily in ordinary (unglamourous) people fighting against incredible odds. We should do better.
August 10, 2021
🍪 Warmongering Cookies For The Win Buddy Read (WCFTWBR™) with the MacHalos and stuff 🍪

No, my account hasn't been hacked (I think). Yes, this is really my little nefarious self reading (and slightly enjoying) a not-so despicable piece of not-so revolting YA.

Yeah yeah, I know. Now get over it, will you? Thank thee kindly.

Oh, and, for the record, I don't actually hate YA as a whole that much. (Okay, it may say so on my profile but it just a cunning scheme to deceive my enemies and stuff.) What I do hate quite very much indeed—and with a murderous vengeance—is crap stuff like this, crap stuff like this and crap stuff like this. You’re welcome.

Moving on and stuff.

So. Yes, this is a Slightly Very Good Book (SVGB™) indeed. Why, you ask? Well because Mona, the MC, is revoltingly young but not a complete twat, for one. She’s also funny as fish, for two. And happens to think that dying with mismatched socks on is not very cool at all (which I am sure is something we can all wholeheartedly agree on), for three. Oh, and Mona is an apprentice baker and half-baked wizard of dough,” which doesn’t sound nearly as titillating as “nefarious breeder of murderous crustaceans” but is actually quite very scrumptious indeed. (For four.)

The story, in typical Kingfisher style, is packed with most creatively delicious (and deliciously creative) ideas. I mean, zombie crawfish! Bloody shrimping ZOMBIE CRAWFISH!! Now if that isn’t the most eco-friendly way to recycle killed-in-combat crustaceans, I don’t know what is. Not to mention it’s a much more vegan-friendly option than using the poor babies as paella ornaments.

See what I mean? Such utter disrespect for my brave little ferocious warriors is quite unacceptable, if you ask me. Where the fish is PETA when you need them, anyway?

Other most creatively delicious (and deliciously creative) ideas featured in this book include Bob the homicidal—and somewhat carnivorous—sourdough starter (note to self: take up baking and incorporate a bunch of wild yeast platoons to your homicidal troops post hate), cookies that boogie on down and perform wonderfully lewd dance numbers, and Gingerbread men with delightfully aggressive military tendencies (it’s the cardamom that did it).

Oh, there are skeletal zombie horses that double as magpie nests, too (pretty cool, that). And inquisitors who look like constipated vultures (scary, that). And red stuff that isn’t necessarily raspberry filling (a shame, that).

Let’s see, what else? The story is abominably fluffy at times, but it is quite marvellously darkly dark for the most part. And what do we say to that? Why, YUM, of course. The villains are magnificently villainous, too. So YUM again. Talking about appetizing stuff, second-hand breakfasts are regularly on the menu in this book. (And no, you don’t want to know that they’re made of.) There are also super savory and most delectable garderobe expeditions. (No, you don’t want to know about these either.) That’s it for the appetite-stimulating side of this story, I think. Unless you consider people who look like the ass end of a seagull as being particularly mouthwatering, that is.

Go, Spockie! That’s my boy!

Nefarious Last Words (NLW™): not all YA stories are created equal. Most Some are crappy as fish, while a few others are bloody shrimping NOT. And that, my Little Barnacles, is a scientifically proven fact.

P.S.: watch out for fleas. You’re probably not aware of this, but the diminutive bastards are actually the ghosts of ancient philosophers and will try to suck out the truth from your ankles at the first opportunity. I kid you not.
P.P.S.: Have you read Kingfisher’s Clocktaur War duology yet? No? NO?! Oh, you are so asking for it.
Profile Image for DivaDiane.
948 reviews90 followers
February 15, 2022
Such a delightful book! There’s not a whole lot to say about the book itself. It seemed to end with about a quarter of the book yet to come and then something happened. I would say though, that 2nd ending was definitely worth it.

Favorite character? The gingerbread cookie.

I didn’t love the narrator. Her put-on British accent was too posh and no way did she sound 14 years old.
Profile Image for Elentarri.
1,497 reviews11 followers
September 10, 2021
This is supposed to be a children's fantasy novel that is apparently too dark for kids?! Corpses and assassins are no doubt old hat to kids these days. Personally I found Bob, the carnivorous semi-intelligent sour bread starter dough, hilarious and the Nag, the horse skeleton, rather cute. And that one Ginger Bread Cookie has more personality than most authors give to their main characters. The protagonist is a 14 year old girl who is a wizard with bread (just bread!!), who manages to still be a (sensible) teenager (mostly) with all the shit that is going on in her life, without all the whining usually associated to these types of books. The "step-parents" actually manage to be likeable, decent people. This is a another great adventure/detective/save the city story with Ursula Vernon's original brand of humour and imagination.
Profile Image for Marlene.
2,885 reviews197 followers
September 13, 2020
Originally published at Reading Reality

I fully admit that I bought this one for the title. Not that the stabbity-stabbity gingerbread man on the cover isn’t adorable, but it was definitely the title that got me. And I’m so very glad that it did. I also wondered whether this was really YA or whether it was one of those cases where something got called YA because it was fantasy. That doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but it definitely does still happen.

I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is even better than that, it’s a YA that can be read and very much enjoyed by adults. I not only laughed out loud at many points, but ended up reading bits to my husband who needed to know what I was cackling about so much.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking reminds me of three really different things; Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Harry Potter, and Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker. And those three things really shouldn’t go together. But they do here.

They definitely do.

It felt like Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City because to a certain extent Mona and Orhan are in the same position. Their city has been betrayed from within – although not for the same reasons. Both of them are woefully underqualified for the role of city savior. Orhan because he’s a despised non-native of the city and Mona because she’s a despised – or at least feared – magic user. And she’s only 14.

Mona’s wry and often disgusted commentary on what’s happening around her and just how far the situation has been left to go awry reads like both Sixteen Ways and the Discworld. Mona sees that things are going wrong, and comments about it to herself. A lot. There may be a certain amount of gallows in her humor, but then the situation does require it.

Where Harry Potter comes in, of course, is that Mona is just 14 and she’s expected to save the city. Which is ridiculous and insane and she’s very aware of the fact that there are lots of adults who weren’t adulting very well at all. It’s up to her and it just plain shouldn’t be. But it still is. Because even if she CAN manage to get better adults it’s not going to happen in time to save the city. So it’s all up to her, no matter how much she downright KNOWS that she is in over her head.

Mona’s understanding that the adults who should have figured this out were collectively asleep at the switch and that saving the city shouldn't be up to her but is anyway is something that Harry Potter fanfiction handles better than the original stories. The situation shouldn’t have been allowed to get so far off the rails that a 14-year-old is not just their best but their only hope. After all, when Leia talks about Obi-Wan being her “only hope” at least her expectations are fixed on a grown up.

That the hope Mona manages to provide involves some very bad gingerbread men, a few very large bread golems and a whole lot of carnivorous sourdough starter is what makes the story so much fun. Which it very definitely is.

But it never sugarcoats the fact that the situation is beyond dire – and that war is very definitely hell. And that sometimes all it takes is just one horse rider of the apocalypse to bring that fact home.

Escape Rating A+: There is a LOT going on in this story. That’s what makes it so damn good.

The obvious is the whole 14-year-old saves the city thing that makes it YA. Mona is young. She’s still, to some extent, figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up, although her magic has driven her further down that path than most. But she’s also at an age where she’s unsure of herself and her future in so many different ways. She sees herself as young, and small, and weak. She sees her magic as not powerful at all or even all that useful. It’s handy in her aunt’s bakery, where she works, but it’s not otherwise big or showy. And neither, honestly, is she.

Her talent is in convincing dough that it wants to do what SHE wants it to do, so it rises properly and it doesn’t burn. And she can make gingerbread men dance – even if she can’t control what kind of dance they do. Mona’s power has definite limits that she has to work within to make it work at all.

Mona is not a person that anyone would expect to be the city’s savior, least of all Mona herself. But when her life gets knocked off its tracks with her discovery of a dead body in her aunt’s bakery, her path goes straight into the doings of the high and mighty. A position that Mona herself certainly never expected to be in.

But then, she didn’t expect to find herself shimmying up the shaft of the duchess’ crapper in order to get someone more suitable on the path of fixing the mess. And that’s the point at which she discovers that EVERYONE has been hoping that someone else would fix the mess.

And doesn’t that sound all too familiar?

As does the way that someone has been using the powers of their office, along with a whole lot of propaganda and a dab hand at ginning up the crowd and pointing it at a convenient bogeyman. Which leads us right back to Harry Potter and the whole “pureblood supremacy” movement. Or real life and any number of groups who can be used to focus attention away from whatever an administration doesn’t want people to look at.

As I said, this is a story that operates on multiple levels, and all of them are excellent. If you are on the lookout for an excellent fantasy that will make you laugh AND make you think, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking has the perfect recipe.
Profile Image for Christi M.
345 reviews57 followers
December 29, 2021
Ah! This was so cute and creative. The author must have had a blast writing this because it shows.

It all starts when Mona discovers a dead body in their bakery. Mona is a wizard that works with bread. Yep, bread. That's it - just bread. And although this is considered minor magic, she still gets accused of the murder solely because she is a wizard. It doesn't take long before she learns there is a growing threat that magicas like her are facing in the city-state and while most magical individuals leave (or are killed), Mona soon finds herself in the unenviable position of having to stand-up and fight against the enemy.

And face the enemy she does - with bread! Who knew bread could have so many uses in battle? With a side-kick named Bob (yeast starter), a gingerbread man familiar, and a newfound belief and understanding of her talents she almost single-handedly helps win a war/battle. I don't think I've ever listened to so many chapters about battle and preparation for battle in a middle grade book as I did in this one. And it was all awesome.

The story is told through Mona's perspective, where she injects wit and humor into everything. But I also loved how she realized and discussed with herself that this should have been completely handled by the adults. It should never have come down to a kid like her having to be the one to make people aware of the dangers against the magicas or be forced to save the day. The adults should have been, well...the adults should have been the adults. They should have realized what was going on and put a stop to it.

Highly recommend if you are looking for a light, fun read with a comedic touch. It's a middle grade story, but one that someone at any age could enjoy.

Rating 5 stars
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books702 followers
January 29, 2021
Extremely sweet. I'd likely have been more impressed if I hadn't read Minor Mage first, but if you liked that, this is a similar concept and I think often funnier.


I think this book is meant for kids, but kids who are totally down with the original Grimm's fairytales. Bad things happen here, but there are also great and relatable lessons. The characters are enjoyable, the plot is fairly straight forward, so it's really the morals and the fun writing that carry this one I think.

I love that we don't demonize the poor.
I love that adults have to apologize to kids.
I love that we grapple with the injustice of powerless groups having to be the ones who have to fix the mistakes of the empowered.

I did not love some of the editing errors (Uncle Albert is called Earl briefly). I wanted more about Bob and more meat to the personal empowerment story.

Super cute and fast though if you need a palate cleanser between heftier books.
Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews205 followers
January 19, 2021
Mona is used to opening her aunt’s baker at 4:30 AM. What she is not used to is finding a body on the floor (especially not the body of a girl around her own age). Or being accused of murder, and hauled before the Duchess. Also new is an official campaign against magic users, of which Mona is one. (Although who can object to someone who can make perfect sourdough, convince bread to stay fresh, and bring gingerbread figures to brief but dancing life?) As Mona’s life gets more and more complicated, she is determined to get it back to normal -- and to stay alive -- whatever it takes.
This book is a bit dark, as you might guess from an opening scene in which the heroine finds a corpse in a bakery. And yet, I loved every word of it. T. Kingfisher has a knack for presenting grim stories with delightful narration, clever heroines, great side characters, and so many plot twists that they don’t feel nearly as dark as they are. The tension is thick, the stakes are high, and my reading breathless.

I don’t want to say too much about this story, because it surprised me on every page, and I don’t want to take that away from anyone else.

Suffice to say that it was utterly charming, perfectly plotted, and ageless -- I think anyone from 9 through adulthood could enjoy this. I’ve seen other reviewers complain that Mona is too passive and quiet, but I found her to be very resourceful, and I greatly enjoyed her voice and outlook.

5 stars, and I need to read another T. Kingfisher book soon.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,422 reviews394 followers
April 14, 2022
This was a damned delight. What a wonderful, fantastic story—I think it's going to be a new favorite.

T Kingfisher is a new to me writer, and I so regret having her work linger on my tbr all these years because she writes how I wish I could write. Dark and funny and weird humor and characters who shine and sparkle and just are.
Profile Image for Udy Kumra.
282 reviews43 followers
October 5, 2021
10/2/21: 5 stars. After even more time thinking about it, I still LOVE this book, but I'm not sure if it'll be as rereadable as the other books on the 7 stars list. Rereadability is an important factor.

6/8/21: 7 stars. Raising this up because it deserves it.

2/26/21: 5 stars. I am in awe, you guys. This little book about a girl who can only use baking magic who has to solve a murder mystery and save her city turned out be as awesome as its title. I was immediately charmed by Mona and her low-key (but unsubtle) deadpan humor. Her voice, and the way it guided us through this surprisingly complex plot and world, was what really stuck the landing for me in this book.

One thing I really appreciated was that despite this being a children's book, it isn't afraid to go dark. There are some grisly murders (filtered through Mona's voice, which lightens things, but still) and some complex political intrigue going on and things sometimes look pretty bleak. YOU DON'T SEE THIS IN MIDDLE GRADE ANYMORE! One of the reasons why I don't read very much middle grade anymore is not because I've outgrown it, but because over the years, the emergence of YA has meant that darker stuff gets pushed to YA and lighter stuff gets pushed to middle grade, with the age groups of those characters following behind. But another trend that has happened is that YA has progressively gotten darker and gotten closer and closer to adult, leaving a gap between the light middle grade and the pretty damn dark YA. This gap, in the old days, was filled with stories like Percy Jackson, Alex Rider, even Harry Potter and The Princess Academy, which are stories that were not afraid to be mature at times.

These days, you don't get this stuff in traditional publishing anymore, and that's sad. T. Kingfisher—better known as Ursula Vernon, whose brand is writing lighthearted children's books, which, you know, makes it all the more difficult—wrote in her acknowledgments about this, about how the story was "too dark" for the age group it was targeting (bullshit). So she ultimately decided to publish under her pseudonym, T. Kingfisher, whose brand was publishing whatever she was in the mood to publish. And that's how we got this amazing self-published book, one of the most unique books I've ever read.

I had a really good time with this, and I recommend it to people of all ages. Yes, it's a children's book, but it's the literary equivalent of a family movie, and I feel that people of all age groups can enjoy this and will love the main character and the really really cool magic.
Profile Image for Raquel Estebaran.
293 reviews176 followers
March 16, 2023
Novela de fantasía juvenil escrita por T. Kingfisher - aka Úrsula Vernon - desde la perspectiva de una adolescente sensata y mordaz cuyo talento mágico solo funciona con el pan, y que desde que se encuentra a una chica asesinada, se enfrenta a unas intrigas políticas que los adultos no han sabido evitar que amenazan su vida y su ciudad.

Una novela muy imaginativa y divertida con un punto de violencia y oscuridad, que he disfrutado mucho.
Profile Image for Emma.
280 reviews44 followers
June 22, 2021
A fun novel, which is very reminiscent of a Terry Pratchett story. A 14 year old wizard, whose magic only works on baked goods, finds herself embroiled in a political plot when she stumbles upon a dead body in her family bakery. The first half of the story is better than the second. The novel is very humorous, and the initial world building was very good. I’d certainly read another story based in this world.
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,032 reviews2,604 followers
January 4, 2022
4 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2021/12/19/...

Magic, gingerbread, warm laughter and feels…this actually turned out to be a perfect holiday read! The protagonist of A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is Mona, a fourteen-year-old baker’s assistant with a minor gift that only works on bread dough. It’s a humble but comfortable existence working at her Aunt Tabitha’s bakery, and Mona is happy enough just to be able to help out.

But one day, her world is turned upside down when she comes in to find a dead body on the floor. Worse, she becomes the main suspect in the murder case. Of course, it doesn’t help that the city’s authorities aren’t exactly friendly towards wizards, even those who aren’t considered very powerful. This has emboldened a certain assassin, who is stalking the streets preying on magic users. Soon every wizard is fleeing the city, including poor Mona who has been caught up in the chaos.

I make it no secret, I’m a big fan of T. Kingfisher, another name for Ursula Vernon. It’s true that I’ve been more familiar with her adult horror thus far, but it appears I’m gradually developing a taste for her Young Adult/Middle Grade fantasy as well. There’s something about her style that reminds me very much of the work of Francis Hardinge, another children’s author I regard highly for her imaginative world-building, lovable protagonists, and yes, stories with maybe just a hint of darkness.

So needless to say, A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking was full of the wonder and whimsy I was expecting. I also loved, loved, LOVED the focus around magic and baking. I mean, deep down, who wouldn’t want the power to create and animate their own gingerbread man army? And of course, Mona is the perfect heroine to lead the way. In many respects, this was a tale of growing up and self-discovery—granted, not uncommon themes when it comes to books for this age group.

If you would pardon the analogy though, our main character began as raw and unformed as a lump of raw dough, ready however to be shaped with a precise touch. Admittedly she had few ambitions at the start of this story, but then grew into her own by the end, dispelled of her naivete while also being hardened by the harshness of reality. Those who enjoy coming of age plots will eat this one right up, I think, especially the book’s target audience, but in truth, Mona’s journey is one that is universally relatable.

For that matter, this is a book that can be enjoyed by everyone, not just by young adults or middle graders. That’s not to say certain aspects couldn’t have been more fleshed out, especially the details surrounding the unstable political climate of the setting, but I wouldn’t say that’s a deal breaker or even a deterrent. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking was simply a lot of fun without being too juvenile. Perfect if you want some quick and light entertainment, not matter how old you are, and a feel-good ending just seals the deal.

Audiobook Comments: Nothing pleases me more than fantastically written characters being brought to life by a talented narrator, and Patricia Santomasso delivered a solid performance that made this such a good listen in audio.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
428 reviews184 followers
July 10, 2021
This was as charming as a cinnamon roll, but also more substantial than I was expecting. I mean, it's about bread. But even bread can, er, rise to the occasion, as 14-year-old Mona, a minor wizard who can magic overworked biscuits into tenderness and gingerbread men into dancing, is about to find out.

It starts with a dead girl on the bakery floor early one morning (that red stuff? def not raspberry jam), and balloons into a much bigger problem that has wizards fleeing from the knife-wielding Spring Green Man and endangers the whole city-state. Mona is no hero - unless you call baking the best sourdough in town heroic - but she might be the only wizard they have left.

A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking strikes an interesting balance between levity (including physical comedy - see Timely Escapes Via Bread, Creative Uses for Garderobes, Unexpected Can-Cans) and seriousness. Kingfisher's pointed sense of humor and earthy imagination are in full force. And considering that the author isn't a baker, she fakes the details beautifully. Bob, the carnivorous sourdough starter, is one of my favorite side characters ever, and I think I'm going to feed mine (named, optimistically, Indefatigable) extra lovingly this weekend. The writing is, as always, quirky and assured:

"Dance, I ordered it. The gingerbread man began to dance a very respectable hornpipe. Don't ask me where the cookies get the dances they do - this batch had been doing hornpipes. The last batch did waltzes, and the one before that had performed a decidedly lewd little number that had even made Aunt Tabitha blush. A little too much spice in those, I think."

At the same time, one of the themes that runs through Kingfisher's children's books is a sobering one: how badly adults have to fuck up before a) the world needs saving; and b) only children can do it. Mona is the Kingfisher heroine who feels this unfairness most acutely, and it marks a somber coming-of-age/loss-of-innocence inflection point. And despite the abundant humor, in Kingfisher's worlds, nothing - including surviving an adventure - is a given.

Kingfisher notes she had major problems finding a publisher for this one, and that's a shame, because I think more children's fantasy should be like this. Cracking stuff.
Profile Image for Howard.
1,182 reviews73 followers
November 10, 2021
5 Stars for A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking (audiobook) by T. Kingfisher read by Patricia Santomasso.

This is such a fun and creative story for all ages. The story is actually as great as the tile. Patricia Santomasso did a wonderful job with the narration. I’ll have to see what else she has narrated.
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