Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg was an unexpected delight! Once I started reading, I could hardly put it down. It was like eating the perfect piece of chocolate cake, eager for the next bite and disappointed when you look down and the plate is clean with no more to eat.
This is the story of a young lady without a memory beyond the last few years, who manages to bake sweet treats which are, somehow, magically infused with different emotions or things like luck. One day, her village is attacked by some marauders and while she survives, she is kidnapped and sold into slavery. A mysterious man, not completely right in the head buys her and forces her to use her magic to make them money for different customers. But there is a mysterious being who visits her – he is like a ghost or a spirit – and he wants her to get her memory back.
The creativity, both in the acts of the characters, and in the author’s plot and execution, is on full display. While there was very little that was truly happy about this story, it was original and well crafted. I found it nearly impossible to put down. There was such a lovely mix of a few fairy tales (in their own way) and the new story here. From the allusions to the story of Hansel and Gretel, to Alice in Wonderland, there was whimsy in the misery. It was such an interesting juxtaposition, even knowing that whimsy was rooted in misery and had what were really in some cases evil purposes. Seeing the power of naming something is typically reserved for books dealing with Fairies, but here it had entirely different, even though ultimately sad, purposes. It was also a great surprise to see the direction the story ended up taking.
I particularly enjoyed reading the scenes where Maire is baking. Seeing her work, and then learning how her magic worked, was so interesting and unique. Like the range of treats she baked, I was filled with a range of emotions while reading the story, with all its twists and turns. Sadness, fear, hope, love, all seem to have their moment for Maire and the reader. The only ingredient missing? A way for me to see that a sequel would be possible that wouldn’t distort the original story too much. Either way, I now need to see what else there is to read by this author. Hopefully, her other stuff is just as delicious!