December 19, 2016

Book Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

The peculiar tale of an enchanted baker who creates fairy tales’ darkest and most magical confections.

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

One might think from the description and cover that this novel might be light and whimsical – like the author’s Paper Magician series. Though it started with the sweet, soon the narrative turned to the dark and bitter, with poignant revelations. In fact, the unlikely comparison of Frankenstein came to mind, as did the more overt references to classic fairy tales (think gingerbread). While some elements sound familiar, others are completely original, leading me to marvel at Holmberg’s range.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is ultimately a more adult fantasy than I was expecting, but nevertheless had me turning the pages quickly to find out what was Maire’s destiny … or origin.  The answer may surprise you as it surprised me. And the epilogue left me with more questions than understanding.

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