In the acknowledgments, the author reports that this story of fourteen-year-old apprentice baker and wizard, Mona, was repeatedly rejected for being too dark for a children’s book. So, it eventually got published under the name T. Kingfisher, which is the name Ursula Vernon uses for her books for grown-ups. I think the story would be delightful for any age. The only thing Mona does which might cause any consternation in a young adult is continually reminding the reader that she is “only fourteen.”

The story does start with a dead body in Mona’s aunt’s bakery, though. Perhaps this would be more upsetting if it weren’t described with Kingfisher’s usual breezy humor; a first-person voice who notices that the blood is “definitely not raspberry filling” and that the murdered person’s socks sadly don’t match. Mona continues in the same unruffled, practical voice even when confronted with corrupt Inquisitors and armies of Carex mercenaries at her city’s gates.

According to Mona, she is not much of a wizard. Her magic lies only in making the best sourdough in the city and briefly animating dancing gingerbread men. She keeps her possibly sentient sourdough starter (named Bob) in the basement at the bakery. But the impressive wizards who are supposed to defend the city are called away, and the people whose magic is deemed inconsequential must step up. Mona’s cleverness and courage and, of course, magical talent for making bread, have to be enough.


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