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308 pages, Paperback
First published July 21, 2020
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.
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.
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.
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
“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.
“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.”
“You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a cookie look smug.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
"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."