I suppose this book is technically YA, since it has a 14-year-old protagonist, and no sex or swearing. However, it has a lot of murder, and politics, and war, and zombie horses, and a semi-sentient carnivorous sourdough starter named Bob. Truly a novel for our times.
T. Kingfisher (AKA Ursula Vernon) is a really great author. I cannot emphasize that enough. I have never read a book by her that I didn’t enjoy. Much like Terry Pratchett, she uses fantasy tropes to speak to deeper truths of human nature, and addresses darker subjects with wit, compassion, and humor without becoming overly sentimental. If you are looking to fill a Pratchett-sized hole in your life and your bookshelf, T. Kingfisher’s A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is a great place to start.
In the city-state of Riverbraid, some people are born with magic, and these powers vary from person to person. Sometimes people have big and impressive powers, like the ability to summon lightning or manipulate water, and are subsequently recruited to the military pretty quick. Mona is not one of these people. Mona’s magic is dough, which is much more useful than lightning for an apprentice baker. Her loaves always rise properly, her biscuits never burn, and she can make the gingerbread men dance around the shop, which is great for marketing. She also has her familiar Bob, a blob of sourdough starter that she accidentally animated. Like all sourdough starters, Bob needs to be feed regularly, and will take matters into its own… pseudopods if neglected. The bakery does not have a rat problem.
But magic users are not universally loved in Riverbraid, and they are turning up murdered, including one in the kitchen of Mona’s bakery. It soon becomes clear someone is getting rid of magic-users for a reason, and Mona finds herself on the run from authorities looking to get rid of her, too. A fourteen-year-old apprentice baker with a knack for animating baked goods may the only person standing between her home and destruction. She’s gonna need a lot of flour.
I recommend this book for anyone. The themes of corruption, abuse of police authority, ineffective governance, persecution of minorities for political gains, and baking make this a very timely read. The character of Mona is plucky, determined, and completely over her head with problems she knows she shouldn’t have to be responsible for solving, but she keeps pushing through because she has no other choice. Highly recommended for any age.