I was introduced to Charlie N. Holmberg through her Paper Magician series, which I really enjoyed. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is a standalone book about Maire, a baker with the ability to “infuse [baked goods] with emotions and abilities”. Those who consume the food absorb the infused traits.
Maire is missing part of her life, however. She can’t seem to remember anything beyond the last few years. When she is captured in a raid and sold as a slave, her captor is unusually cruel to her and forces her to make her specialty goods for illicit purposes.
Once again, Holmberg has done a wonderful job crafting a unique world filled with unique characters. The magic in Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is well designed and is unlike anything I have read before. As the true extent of the magic is revealed little by little, I found myself reading more and more eagerly. I had to temper my excitement so I could truly enjoy the world as the story progressed.
Maire is a wonderful character, influencing everyone around her. She is kind, curious, and bold, doing the right thing despite potential consequences. As more is revealed about her past as the story progresses, I started feeling sympathy for her situation. Her story really drew me in.
Allemas, the nominal antagonist, remains interesting throughout Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet because he changes through continued interaction with Maire. His past is slowly revealed along with Maire’s, and it is definitely worth the wait for the payoff at the end. Allemas has knowledge he refuses to share with Maire, and he definitely knows a lot about her past.
Fyel—who seemed less important at the beginning of the story—really impacted the overall story. I guessed some of what was revealed at the end, but not all of it. Holmberg does a fine job dropping hints and tidbits of information that are not immediately recognizable as such.
The overall plot in Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet flowed fairly smoothly, though there were a few spots where too much was happening too quickly. In other spots, it moved very slowly, giving time to stop and smell the gingerbread (you’ll see). Holmberg made good use of the slower times, however, so this did not impact my overall enjoyment of the book.
Some of the secondary characters were flat, but only a little. A couple of the mini-arcs within the book seemed to have only a small impact on the overall story, so seemed almost unnecessary. Still, Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet was a very solid book. It was worth the time, and I look forward to reading more from this author.
Release Date: June 28, 2016 (USA)
ISBNs: 1503935604 (9781503935600)
Alcohol/Drugs: 0 (unless magic counts)
Violence: 2 (some brutal violence, slave beating, assault, death)