A Wizard's Guide To Defensive Baking
October 27, 2020 6:45 AM - by Kingfisher, T. - Subscribe

This is about a young woman whose magical abilities are entirely related to bread dough. She can make gingerbread men dance. Her familiar is a sourdough starter. Her peaceful life in interrupted when she sees a corpse in the bakery. I haven't been pulled into a book so thoroughly in a long time. It's got tremendous amounts of plot twists and good sense. T. Kingfisher is Ursula Vernon's pseudonym. She couldn't find a publisher for it after 10 years, so it's self-published. Apparently it's somewhat sideways from standard YA fiction.

This is a culture where moderate prejudice against magickers is suddenly shifting to extermination.

The book has a lot of grimness, but it isn't hopeless.

If you can get gingerbread men to dance, how much more can you do with them, especially if you have the resources of a city behind you?

I don't feel like I can do it justice, and don't want to give major spoilers. I may put more in comments, but if you think you might like such a book, please read it. Or talk about what you like about it.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz (16 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, it's much darker than you would expect it to be based on the title and concept, but it's not, like, GRIMDARKY GRIMDARK GRIMDARKNESS either.

I liked it. I especially appreciated the running throughline noting that if you are counting on the Young Teen Heroine to save the day, something has gone terribly wrong with your society because literally every single adult has somehow dropped the ball. (Which is ... more of a commentary on a few actual world events than I would ideally like it to be.)
posted by kyrademon at 8:06 AM on October 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

I really loved this, and found it an excellent Pandemic Companion Read. Dark, but hopeful, with baking and holding politicians accountable as throughlines.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:11 AM on October 27, 2020

I loved this book so much. My only quibble is the gingerbread man never really gets a name like the murderous sourdough starter does.

Reminded me of Pratchett in many ways, really great stuff.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:44 AM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I loved this book. Mona made for a great character.

And the Nag storyline just killed me. Great read
posted by Fence at 11:19 AM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Ursula has been hitting it out of the park lately. I really liked Minor Mage and her Paladin stories too.
posted by domo at 11:22 AM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

This was a lovely book. And I really liked the theme of heroes and what they're for. Fourteen-year olds shouldn't have to save the queen!
posted by Lorc at 1:04 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Omg this sounds delightful. Adding to my reading list immediately. Thank you for the heads up!
posted by miss-lapin at 5:42 PM on October 27, 2020

I read it earlier on in the pandemic and absolutely loved it. And yeah, the 'young hero rightfully angry that the adults aren't taking care of things' throughline that kyrademon mentioned was extremely refreshing, as was the talk with her father.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:17 PM on October 27, 2020

Reminded me of Pratchett in many ways, really great stuff.

Ursula Vernon is really a southern swamp Pratchett in a lot of ways and I love her for it.

I really liked this one - I don't always like her books aimed at a younger audience as much as I like her adult stuff, but this was sharp and (when you consider how long ago it was written) depressingly prescient. And I am totally on board with the notion that YA heroes are, by definition, being failed by their communities.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:06 AM on October 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

This sounds neat. I've requested that my local OverDrive region add it.
posted by one for the books at 1:07 PM on October 28, 2020

I absolutely love all of her books (barring her horror books, which I read out of a weird sense of obligations but don't like because I am mostly not a horror reader). She really does this sort of -- puzzled by the world hard worker (usually a gardener) but overall good and kind character well. (Yes, all her protagonists are essentially similar -- if you read her romances in a row it's very obvious. But it's such a NICE protagonist to hang out with.)
posted by jeather at 4:38 PM on October 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Picked this up due to the reviews in this thread -- and loved it! It felt like it took a little while to get going, but the last half or so was a wonderful thrill ride! Thanks for the recommendation, folks!
posted by Frayed Knot at 8:31 AM on November 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

This was so great!

This had been sitting on my ereader for a while. I love Ursula Vernon but try not to binge on these short light novels, then I sort of forgot it was there. Finished it and glad she got some fanfare love already.

Bread golems dancing the can-can in battle formation. A gingerbread familiar. Bob. Knacker Molly giving her all, tragically but not uselessly.

I would call it an above average entry from her, and which is no small feat! (I mean, technically half her books are above average for her, so it might seem like it's kind of easy, but only for her. Only for her.)
posted by mark k at 5:53 PM on May 4, 2021 [2 favorites]

Knacker Molly's final gift--magnificent and so sad. I liked this book more than I thought I would, and "southern swamp Pratchett" is right. She could be a distant relative of Tiffany Aching. I enjoyed the first-person narration, which centers how it feels to be young and vulnerable amid greater events (versus Pratchett's wonderful way of taking a much broader and more cynical view of power and its manipulation). Was Gildaen a reference to Gildaen?
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:01 PM on May 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

The 2020 Nebula Awards are out, and A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking is the Andre Norton Nebula Award for Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction winner.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:48 AM on June 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

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