the Little Red Reviewer

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking

Posted on: October 18, 2020

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher is one of the cutest, most fun books I’ve read in a long time! Apparently it’s been a while since I read some Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher.


Ok, so the book isn’t all cutesy – people die, assassins go after teenagers, kids are homeless, adults act like idiots, there is some shit to be said about why we need heroes in the first place. . . ok, crap, this book is actually pretty dark, now that I’m thinking about it.


(the book doesn’t have any swear words, because Mona is a good girl. but #sorrynotsorry, this review has a lot of swear words.)


But I felt cute while I was reading it?  I laughed a lot while I was reading it. I loved all the characters, i loved loved LOVED Mona’s internal voice, i kept snarking “not my gumdrop buttons!” outloud, and reading this book really made me want to bake and hold my loved ones close.  Reading it made me feel hopeful.


So, after Mona’s parents died, she went to live with her aunt and uncle and work in their bakery. Well, she works there, but she lives in her own little room down the street. At fourteen years old, she leaves her apartment at 4am, goes to the bakery, and starts the ovens.  What were you doing at 14?   Mona is also an amateur wizard – she can make bread dough do cute things. The bakery customers (ok, some of them) love it when she makes the gingerbread men get up and dance (some of the customers think she’s a creepy witch).  There’s also this semi-sentient bucket of sourdough starter in the basement named Bob.  Bob eats the rats.  #teamBob.


One sleepy morning, Mona arrives at work, to find a strange girl in the bakery. The girl is also dead. Aunts are woken up, police are called.  And not too many days after that, when Mona gets to work in the wee hours of the morning, the assassin is waiting for her too.


Fourteen year olds shouldn’t have to escape from assassins at four oclock in the morning.


And I haven’t even had a chance yet to tell you about Knackering Molly and her dead horse Nag! I wonder what Bob and Nag would think of each other? Molly freakin’ rocks, by the way.


The assassin is obviously another wizard.  Why the heck would a wizard be hunting other wizards, especially someone like Mona, a teenager who has limited magical abilities?


Things happen, and then dear reader, you will read the funniest scene you have ever read in your life. It involves Mona and her new friend Spindle climbing up a, um, sort of drain pipe?  The, um, drain pipe that leads directly to the Duchess’s, um, garderobe.  Ain’t the Duchess in for a shock when she walks into her bathroom to find two shit covered teenagers. My friends, I was laughing so hard I fell out of my chair!

As it turns out, the Duchess could actually use Mona and Spindle’s help. You see, things have gotten a little out of control, and the Duchess has lost touch with what’s been happening in the the town. Her guards, they tell her it isn’t safe for her to go out, among her people.  Her advisors betrayed her, and now there is an army marching on the city, and the wizards who could protect her city are either disappearing or getting killed!


More cool things happen (not gonna tell you, cuz spoilers), and then we get to this thing about “the heroes in stories”, and this just about killed me. Lemme unpack a little, what I’m trying to talk about.  Why does a story need a hero/heroine?  Let’s see. . .  maybe someone needs to be saved, or there are criminals or corruption everywhere, or poor people are being mistreated, or there is a war on, this list could go on forever.  still with me?


And if the hero is a teenager (who should be doing teenager things, like maybe baking, or hanging out with family, or reading, or being at school, or doing other boring normal teenager things),  that means the adults in charge were completely incapable of keeping their shit together.  A teenage hero means the adults were useless for so long that a child had to come and fix things.  It is a grown ups fucking job to fix things, to run things, to mete out justice, to manage things, to be diplomatic, to bring people together, to negotiate, to have their shit together and not fuck it up.  How badly did the grown ups fuck things up, that you need a freakin’ ninth grader to come and fix things?   This discussion about what all has gone horribly wrong if a story needs a teenage hero really got to me, if you can’t tell.  You only need a teenager hero if the adults are absolute shite at #adulting.  Mona loves to bake. She’s not interested in being the hero the city needs. She wishes the adults had just done their damn jobs.


Mona’s Uncle Albert doesn’t talk much, and he most certainly hates to talk about his days as a soldier, during the war.  But he tells Mona about how he was named a hero, during the war. It doesn’t make her feel any better. Sometimes a government desperately needs a call someone a hero to, well, cover up their own ineptitude.


I ask you, how is a fourteen year old girl, and a bucket of semi-sentient sourdough starter supposed to protect a city from an invading army?  A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking is the Answer.


Now I ask you – why should it fall to a teenager and her magic, to save a city?  It’s a good question, and really I liked how this book talked about it.


The end was fantastic.  Molly fucking rocks. I’m #TeamBob.  I want to make gingerbread men, but I kinda don’t ever want to make sourdough.


This is really a fantastic book, you should read it!   You will laugh out loud,  you will gasp out loud, and you will very likely cry at the end. You’ll find yourself cheerleading some very angry gingerbread men.  Or, well, I did all those things.


While I was reading this book, I simply would not shut up about it. I kept laughing out loud, and reading snippets out loud to my poor suffering husband. He finally told me to stop spoiling it for him, because he wanted to read it. And he enjoyed it too!


Heads up, Ursula Vernon (T. Kingfisher is her pen name) self published this book, because publishers couldn’t decide if it was a YA, or a middle grade (no! Too dark!), or a grown up book, or what. And this book does defy an age range.  It’s got a teen protagonist who is tasked with saving the city,  there’s no sex or bad language but there is a lot of dead bodies and a dead horse that walks around, there is an assassin who is an absolute jerkface, and lots of humor and also possible sudden death. This is a YA book, because don’t all kids want to be heroes?  But it’s also not a YA book, because a good adult wants to create a world where a teenager can be a teenager, and doesn’t have to be a hero.

7 Responses to "A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking"

I love this review!

Liked by 1 person

thank you! it was such a fun review to write. sorry about all the swear words.


I bought this last month and am ashamed of myself for not starting it yet! 🙂


there’s been a lot going on, don’t be ashamed of yourself. if you haven’t gotten to this book yet, it means it will be there waiting for you when you really need it! (and then again, every time after that, too).

Liked by 1 person

I lovelovelove books that have to have their snippets read aloud and that make their readers laugh loudly. This sounds amazing, and I lovelovelove your review! 🥰😆


i basically read the opening of every chapter out loud, until my husband said “stop spoiling it for me, i want to read that book too, you know!”. so then i stopped reading the openings out loud, and read other enjoyable bits out loud.

(also, i just really like reading stuff out loud?)

Liked by 1 person

Reading out loud adds a whole new dimension sometimes! My husband and I used to read books aloud to each other while the other was in the shower (over-sharing? What’s that?), but there’s just not the time these days … I miss that.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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