I am not filled with righteous fury over this book, but I am very disappointed. The premise sounded pretty entertaining, an Ilona Andrews-lite set up of a young woman from a magical family whose own powers are mostly unknown and untested. She’s drawn into an investigation being overseen by a very powerful vampire and a shapeshifter/werewolf alpha, because trinkets that she makes — believing there’s no exceptional power to them — keep turning up on the bodies of slain werewolves. I love urban fantasy, and I love when all of these paranormal creatures and magic users are players in the same world, so the book really could have been great. There’s an idea somewhere in here that just needed to be refined and improved. The author is imaginative, but the work as a whole is really amateur.
Cupcakes, Trinkets, and Other Deadly Magic (CTODM) just lacks charisma. The main character, whose first person perspective is milquetoast at best and ingratiating at worst, is just a big nothing. She has no personality other than obsessing over her cupcake recipes and the single-origin, such-and-such percent cacao chocolate that went into them, and being blissfully in denial about how her magic works. Again, I point to Ilona Andrews as an example of what I think this heroine could have been: Burn for Me‘s heroine is strongly hinted to have powers greater than what she believes, and she too is less the type to go running into danger than to caution others against it. But CTODM’s Jade is not even really just careful, she’s completely oblivious. As a reader, I can’t stand when everyone else but the main character, whose perspective I am forced into, seems to know exactly what is going on. Jade may as well have been an elementary school child for all of the gentle prodding that her accomplices gave her in the “right” direction.
Much like with the minutiae about chocolate, the author has some weird tics, like making sure I know the exact brand of boots Jade is wearing, or an over-reliance on colors (Kandy’s hair is green… GOT IT,) or filling Jade’s inner monologue with sarcastic, self-deprecating asides that are, sadly, not funny. The head shapeshifter, before Jade knows his name, is dubbed “McGrowly” in a cutesy naming convention that stopped being relevant at about the same time that Grey’s Anatomy did.
The emotion is all over the place. Despite a large part of the action being driven by Jade’s “very close” relationship with her sister, and being concerned about her sister’s dabbling in tricky magic, I don’t see any evidence of their closeness at all. Jade says how much she loves Sienna, and how they are best friends, but Sienna is kind of a bitch to her throughout the whole book and Jade herself seems to be constantly struggling to not blow up at her. Meanwhile, the only person who she seems to have genuine feeling for is a redshirt who she knew for a few hours before he turns up dead. Then she spends the rest of the book crying over him, which I guess is better treatment than most redshirts get. Later, out of nowhere, because apparently this series is going to try to turn romantic at some point, Jade experiences a powerful moment of arousal when she connects her magic to the vampire and shapeshifter in charge. This is on the heels of only very disinterested observation about how they “could be” attractive, and nothing else afterward hints at a lingering connection between any of them.
One thing I’ll say about this book is that it wasn’t overtly misogynistic. Which sounds like a laughably low bar, but urban fantasy and PNR is littered with a lot of alphahole heroes and gossamer-thin characterizations of all women other than the heroine. A lot of these turn really nasty, and I try to avoid books where the hero steamrolls over the heroine while sneering at all of the other sluts who have shared his bed. CTODM avoids the worst of all of this, either by design or perhaps just by the failure of the author to give anyone a strong enough personality to turn sour. I know, that was mean. But the blessed reprieve from sexism, as well as credit where it’s due to a solid initial idea, kept this at the two-star mark rather than one (irredeemable.)
No one really wants to hear this, but I think Doidge needs an editor or some other willing beta readers who will help her develop her characters better and reign in some of her self-conscious flourishes.