Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg
“I’m just gonna read 15 pages before bed.”
Famous last words, right? 275 words later, I’d polished off this clever fairy-tale and it was way past my bedtime.
Here’s the setup: Maire lost her memory four years ago but managed to make a life for herself in a small town. Then she loses her bakery. Then her family. Then her freedom. As a slave to a deranged master, the only thing Maire has left is her mysterious ability to infuse her cooking with her magic. The ante goes way up as her new master forces her to use her magic for evil purposes.
Add in a winged spirit-creature and maybe-lover, lots of gingerbread, vicious marauders, escape attempts and cosmic creation.
With a bakery set-up (and the girly cover), I was expecting chic-flick lite – something whimsical and dramatic and funny. But the story was darker, deeper and more mature than I expected, certainly far from humorous. It moved between themes of compassion and forgiveness to real moments of bleakness despair. Everything that happens in fantasy adventure happened, but with a this is real life, and it’s not always pretty turn to it. It was an odd and clever combo of low fantasy grit and lovely fairy tale.
We follow resilient, strong-hearted Maire through her trials. It’s a spark of Cinderella minus prince, with a dash of amnesia, a sprinkling of abduction and torture, with a side helping of a strong current of importance-of-family. Think: a grittier Robin McKinley.
That said, in an odd way, things came both too hard to Maire, and too easy. What could have had simple answers, took the entirety of the book. When the book decided to be hard on Maire, it didn’t do things halfway.
The mystery kept me reading, but I figured a bunch of things out way ahead of the big reveal, so there wasn’t much to feed the mystery-guesser in me until the very, very end.
Overall, I’m of mixed opinion on the story. It’s a cool story that explores some pretty dark and deep places. But…Take all that together, give it a shake, and you get a canary rating that’s a bit mixed. I’d recommend this to anyone wanting traditional fantasy + romance lite + a smart, mature character with a Jane Eyre level of compassion in the face of suffering.
(I enjoyed the read, but I probably wouldn’t pick up a sequel…)
Book provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review.